Out of all the Christian marriage advice from books, radio, and online these days, I have found rare the resource which offers truly practical, realistic, and effective help. Cloud and Townsend's body of work is a shining exception. They avoid the "Christian formula" approach that is common and frustrating fare. "If only you will behave like this________ (fill in the blank), then your marriage troubles will be solved." They also avoid the hopelessness which is a common theme in the body of literature addressing abusive marriages. Extensive excerpts of Cloud's book, Changes That Heal, are among a library of helpful articles available free online (click here).
I found the book, Boundaries in Marriage by Cloud and Townsend a practical, hopeful, and optimistic resource. Here is the author's description of the book's intention.
Quoted from Boundaries in Marriage by Cloud and Townsend -
Yet, love is not enough. The marriage relationship needs other ingredients to grow and thrive. Those ingredients are freedom and responsibility. When two people are free to disagree, they are free to love. When they are not free, they live in fear, and love dies: "Perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18). And when two people together take responsibility to do what is best for the marriage, love can grow. When they do not, one takes on too much responsibility and resents it; the other does not take on enough and becomes self centered or controlling…
Boundaries in Marriage is fundamentally about love. It is about promoting it, growing it, developing it, and repairing it. We want to help you develop love through providing a better environment for it; one of freedom and responsibility. This is where boundaries, or personal property lines, come in. They protect love by protecting individuals.
Here is an excerpt from the book, Boundaries in Marriage, by Cloud and Townsend about two different routes marriage can take. My marriage is in the process of moving from "Harold and Sarah" to "Frank and Julia."
A Tale of Two Couples . . . With Harold and Sarah, I enjoyed a buffet dinner where you get a ticket for various parts of the meal and you have to leave the table with your ticket and go get your item. The dinner was winding down; we were ready for dessert. Harold reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out his dessert ticket. Tossing it in front of Sarah, he said casually, "Sarah, dessert." Not "Please, Sarah, will you get my dessert for me?" And certainly not "Can I get your dessert, honey?" Harold was assuming Sarah would obediently comply with his two word command.
I didn't know what to say, so I sat there and watched. Sarah was clearly embarrassed by Harold's public display of control. She sat there for a couple of seconds, apparently deciding what to do. Then she seemed to gather her courage and quietly but forcefully said, "Why don't you get your own dessert?"
Harold looked surprised. Evidently he wasn't used to her refusing to obey his commands. However, he recovered, made a weak joke about uppity women, and left the table to redeem his ticket. While he was gone, Sarah said to me, "Sorry, I just couldn't let it go this time with my friends here." I felt so sad for Sarah, realizing that her reaction to her husband tonight was the exception rather than the rule. I also realized that, on a deeper level, while Harold and Sarah were legally connected, they were emotionally disconnected. Their hearts were not knit together.
Frank and Julia were different. I was traveling and they were hosting me. We went to their home after dinner. After awhile it was time for me to return to my hotel, and I needed a ride. Julia, a counselor like me, was primarily responsible for my trip and had been chauffeuring me to various speaking engagements and meetings. So clearly she was the person to take me back.
However, Frank looked at his wife and said, "You look tired, honey. I'll take John back to his hotel." I could see the conflict in Julia's face between her duty to me and her need for rest. Finally, she said "Okay, thanks." And Frank drove me to the hotel.
The next day, at the conference, I talked to Julia. I remarked on Frank's kindness in offering the ride and on her struggle with taking the offer. She said, "It wasn't always that way. In our twenties, he wouldn't have offered, and I wouldn't have taken the offer. But we worked on this issue a lot during those days. I had to put my foot down on some issues, and we almost divorced. It was a difficult period, but it has paid off. We can't imagine not being each other's soul mates." During my time with them, I had observed that Frank's and Julia's hearts were knit together, that they were emotionally connected.
Though both couples had many years of marriage experience, each couple's love and relationship had taken very different turns. Harold and Sarah were unable to love deeply and relate to each other, because Harold controlled Sarah and Sarah allowed him to control her. They had what are called major boundary conflicts, in which one person crosses the lines of responsibility and respect with another. When one person is in control of another, love cannot grow deeply and fully, as there is no freedom.
I wrote the guidelines from the following excerpt on an index card to think about.
Quoted from, Boundaries in Marriage by Cloud and Townsend -
Let's suppose your spouse is aware of your feelings and concerns, but ignores, minimizes, or otherwise resists your boundaries. If this is your situation, you have some work ahead of you. It is hard work, but it can also be the most productive thing you will ever do for your marriage…
You must not approach this problem as if you are a team. At this point, you have an adversary. Like a child having a tantrum, your spouse may hate you for entering the world of boundaries. So understand that you are on your own, within the marriage, in approaching the issue. Actually, you are not alone; you have God. . . But you don't expect much cooperation from your spouse.
A few things you may be tempted to do will not help the situation at all. Remember these, tape them in your wallet and DON'T DO THEM!
Don't deny or minimize the situation if it is a significant boundary problem. Hiding from reality doesn't change reality.
Don't ignore the situation, hoping it will get better. Time alone does not heal character immaturity.
DON'T become more compliant and pleasing, hoping love will fix everything. Again, character issues demand more than love in order to mature.
Don't nag. Repeating the same protest over and over never changed anyone (Prov 21:9)
Don't be constantly surprised at your spouse's behavior. This is a sign of a defensive hoping against hope. When out of control people have no external forces causing them pain, they generally stay out of control. Expect things to stay the same until you initiate changes within the marriage.
Don't blame. Very few marriage boundary conflicts involve an all innocent and all guilty party. Take ownership of your part of the issue, taking the log out of your own eye. (Matt 7:5)
Don't take total ownership of the problem. If you rescue your partner from his part, you will only make the issue worse (Prov 19:19)