A RETREAT ABOUT A MARRIAGE
CONFIDENTIAL: 'Tim' and 'Jenny'
[Tim came for a two-day retreat. It's his and his wife Jenny's second
marriage. They have four adult children living with them - two of his and
two of hers. The following is an edited version of the summary of our
discussions. Names and other details have been changed for confidential
reasons. Tim gave permission for this to be published on the Web].
Following two days of conversations with Tim about your family, marriage
and personal histories, I have the following responses (not necessarily in
order of importance):
1. The best way Jan and I can facilitate healing and growth in couples'
marriages is to talk with both of them on these retreats. However, the time
with Tim was valuable: another opportunity to listen to Jenny would be
2. The way God has made humans, I believe, is for men to lead and women to
be responsive. There are sometimes exceptions to this (God is not a
legalist), but in general a woman wants her man to be both strong and
tender - not one without the other. A man needs respect from his wife
(Ephesians 5:33). Without love, a wife feels devalued; without respect, a
man feels powerless to lead.
3. Tim's upbringing has not given him an adequate model of strong/tender
male leadership. My hunch is that Jenny's upbringing - and her subsequent
relationships with the key males in her life - has not given her powerful
reasons to respect men.
4. Result: Jenny is angry (with some justification) when Tim is not a
confident leader; Tim feels (also with some justification) that Jenny comes
across like an authoritarian mother-figure.
5. Given these complexities - and coming from totally different worlds - mix
in a second marriage for each plus a blended family with two children each
still at home, with differing expectations about child discipline,
money-management, spiritual life in the home, differing value-systems, etc.
etc. and I am not surprised these is sometimes almost unmanageable
6. How do two people approach conflictual issues given all this? The only
way I know, after 17,000 hours counseling, is for both of them to forge a
covenant on this (and other issues) with the help of an insightful, caring
counselor/friend. For example: she has a right to express her views
strongly - but not repeatedly. She commits herself to being assertive,
without being aggressive or using blackmails or put-downs. She develops
skills in the area of encouragement, without it degenerating into flattery.
They learn to negotiate how money is spent (and in a family of five adults,
this must be seen by all of them to be consistent/fair). He must learn not
to shut down emotionally or spatially (walking away) when she is angry. He
must develop skills in listening such that she knows she's been heard when
she's expressed something once. (Women often 'nag' when this doesn't
happen - due to their anger at their opinions not being treated seriously).
They both come to an arrangement about when in the day is the best time to
talk seriously - not before the children, not before going to sleep, etc.
7. My hunch is that Jenny is better at expressing her feelings in a
conflictual situation; Tim doesn't easily cope in these situations. So
there isn't a 'level playing-field' here. Jenny can be encouraged to learn
to express her feelings in ways that Tim is able to receive, at this stage
in his emotional development; Tim can be encouraged not to be frightened by
emotional outbursts from the key woman in his life. The only way the Men's
Movement suggests males do this is to talk regularly with other males. Women
cannot make men out of boys (which has relevance to a step-mother's
relationship with a 16-year-old male: 99% of the discipline there has
to be done by the father).
8. So who disciplines the children? First, the couple must agree on broad
disciplinary guidelines, consequences, etc. Then each can guide the children
when appropriate - or when the other is not there. Such discipline must be
fair: without any discrimination against any of the children from either
side. Each parent protects the other against cheekiness or insubordination.
When do 'children' become adults? I think it's generally accepted that in
most cases an eighteen-year-old is an adult. Eleven/twelve-year-olds to
17-year-olds are both children and adults. Adult children have to live with
the consequences of their actions: to 'bail them out' every time they get
into a fix is not helpful in the long run.
9. Tim has a tendency to win and keep friends through his financial
generosity is generally a virtue, it's not a virtue when used as a
'price-tag' to initiated or maintain friendships.
10. On the issue of 'where is God in all this?' 'Can't God help us to grow
spiritually and emotionally without the help of others?' the answer is: very
rarely. The classical biblical and historical Christian wisdom is that God
has made us to need each other to grow in love, faith and hope. By the way:
when grown women try to help grown men to grow in love, faith and hope, they
will generally fail. It will be counterproductive. Men only hear 'This is
mother speaking: naughty boy' when the key woman/women in their life come on
11. On the issue of husbands/wives having devotions together, there are no
easy answers. Most Christian couples find it difficult to come to a
mutually-satisfying arrangement. Here I believe a covenant is appropriate.
And a realization that men and women will relate to God differently.
12. Teenage girls need their Dad to affirm them - as persons, women, adults.
It is very important for Tim and [his 17-year-old daughter] (and ideally
also the other
girls) to spend regular time together, just the two of them, talking.
13. Teenage boys need to be initiated into manhood by the 'elders of the
tribe' - their fathers and other 'elders'. So it's important for Tim and
[his son] to do things together - make things, play sports, have interesting
experiences - just the two of them, and with other men and boys, regularly.
14. Re sex: here a covenant is helpful in most marriages - not etched in
stone, but negotiable differently from time to time as couples get older, or
medical issues intervene, or one or the other is 'working through' various
emotional issues (such as a recently-remembered abusive episode in
childhood). Such a covenant is best formed with the help of a sensitive wise
counselor. Normally, wives want their husbands to be the initiators, but not
invariably. If sexual drives vary, one sometimes will give a gift of sexual
satisfaction to the other - but always negotiated in general terms
beforehand. For a woman, sexual experience is most often only satisfying in
the context of loving communication at all levels (which is why conflicts
should be normally be separated time-wise from the best time for
15. The basic issue in the relationship between Tim and Jenny is, I
believe, one of 'cross transference'. He has not learned how to respond to
or manage a conflictual situation, because he has not been shown how. And so
Tim feels inadequate in these situations. She is angry that Tim is not the
man she wants him to be: she has been hurt by men in her past, and longs for
a man in her life who will be strong and loving and know how to lead. You
will both have to be wise and patient as you negotiate your way through
these troubled waters. If the conflict between you continues to degenerate,
you will have to face the sad but inevitable issue: 'Would we be more able
to survive emotionally and spiritually separately than together?'
Tim and Jenny: you're in my prayers! Let's keep in touch.
God bless you both.