Breaking Up is Hard to Do
About the Guest
Live long enough, and someone will likely break your heart. Author and biblical counselor Lou Priolo talks about the emotions people feel as they struggle with a broken heart: guilt, loneliness, despair, hopelessness and shame. Lou encourages the brokenhearted to practice forgiveness and to remember Romans 12:18: "So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with everyone.
Lou PrioloLou Priolo is the founder and president of Competent to Counsel International and has started several counseling centers throughout Alabama and Georgia. He is a graduate of Calvary Bible College and Liberty University, as well as holding a Doctorate of Divinity from Calvary University. He has been a full-time biblical counselor since 1985. He is the author of several books including The Heart of Anger, The Complete Husband, Teach Them Diligently, ...more
Live long enough, and someone will likely break your heart.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Bob: Ever been in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex and you liked them, but you started to lose that loving feeling? What do you do? Here’s author Lou Priolo.
Lou: It’s like what Jesus told the church in Revelation, Chapter 2. Remember? They fell out of love with Him. What did He say? He said, “I want you to reach down into the depths of your love cup and stir up these warm fuzzies...” Is that what He said? No, He told them three things. He said, “Remember the way it used to be. Repent. Change your thinking and the direction of your life, and do your first works.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, September 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So how do we pick up the pieces when a relationship starts to unravel? We’re going to talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Back in high school, college, did you ever get dumped?
Dennis: Oh yes. Oh yes, numerous times. [Laughter]
Bob: Was there a big dump experience?
Dennis: Oh yes. There was a young lady that I was after. I was pursuing her; and in a healthy way, I felt like—
Dennis: —and she couldn’t respond. She was headed in another direction—unfortunately, with another guy; and I didn’t win her heart. In fact, I lost her heart. In the process, it was a very valuable lesson for me, spiritually.
That’s what we’re going to talk about today—what you can learn from the process of breaking up, whether with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. Whatever it may be, you can learn some lessons, spiritually, in your relationship with God.
Bob: The reason that I was particularly drawn, not just to this subject but to this particular book, is because every chapter in the book has a reference to a pop song.
Dennis: I was going to point that out. I thought it was really—we’ve had some authors—in fact, I just want to introduce Lou to our audience, and I want to ask him a question. Lou Priolo joins us on FamilyLife Today. Lou, welcome back.
Lou: Thank you. It’s always good to be here.
Dennis: He is a popular guest and has been on FamilyLife Today before. He is the Director of the Center for Biblical Counseling at Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He has two daughters and lives in Alabama with his wife Kim. The name of the book is called Picking Up the Pieces.
Dennis: Lou, you’re a counselor with more than 25 years’ experience. You see people, from all walks of life, who need a spiritual and emotional wheel alignment because they’ve been dumped—maybe in a marriage, maybe in a dating relationship, maybe even in an affair. What do you see people going through when they’ve been dumped? Describe where they are.
Lou: There are so many emotions that people experience when they go through a break-up—especially, if they’re the dumpee rather than the dumper—but everything from guilt, to loneliness, to despair, to grief, to hopelessness. There are all kinds of anxiety, depression—dozens of emotions that people experience typically, in one way or another, when they’ve lost someone they love.
Of course, the biggest one probably is grief. They’ve lost something—someone that’s very important to them. If it was a marriage, they lost more than the person—they lost companionship, they lost financial security. There’s just a lot involved when you lose a spouse. I wrote the book in the hopes of ministering to the various emotional pains and hurts that people go through when they experience a romantic break-up.
Bob: I would think if it’s a break-up of a marriage relationship, it’s even more profound and severe than if it’s two folks who have been dating, although emotions are intense in both cases; but when somebody’s pledged to love, honor and cherish for as long as you both shall live and then they renege, that’s hard.
Dennis: I’ve got a good friend who has been married for several decades and just lost a spouse to divorce. This person is full of sadness, grief. It seems like shame is a big issue, too—just ashamed that the marriage ended because it was something that this person never dreamed would happen in their life.
Lou: And then, especially, when you’re a Christian. We all know that a marriage is a very difficult thing to get out of without sinning. There’s not only guilt for whatever a person might have done to contribute to the breakdown of the marriage but then the state of shame that goes along so often with being a divorced Christian.
Bob: There’s a fundamental rejection that happens here. One of the reasons we feel so bad is because somebody who had said to us, “I am drawn to you. I like you. I am attracted to you,” is now saying, “I reject you.”
Bob: That’s hard for any of us.
Lou: It’s probably closer to betrayal in most cases than just rejection. It’s a tough thing to go through. Some people would actually argue it’s more difficult to go through a divorce than through the death of a spouse because, when someone dies, eventually, you know the person is not coming back. When you’re the dumpee—and your spouse leaves, and you still want the relationship to work, and day in and day out for months and sometimes years, you’re hoping for reconciliation—it’s a lot more difficult to let go in those situations—and even biblically, sometimes, it’s the right thing to do to continue to have hope.
Bob: I’m guessing that, in your counseling practice, you don’t typically see somebody college-age or young adult who was in a long-term relationship, and they broke up, and now they’re depressed, and they’re coming for that. I’m guessing it’s more often somebody who has been abandoned by a spouse, —
Bob: —or somebody who is—at one level, an affair is the same kind of rejection. It’s a break-up, even though you may still be married to that person; right?
Lou: That’s right. We do see more situations where people are coming in the hopes of saving their marriage. Sometimes they come after the marriage is pretty much gone, and they want to come for counseling for a so-called divorce-recovery kind of counseling. We help them through the book and through individual counseling— understand what they’ve done to contribute to the breakdown of the marriage. We want them to have a clear conscience.
We’ll often send them back, actually. It’s not always possible to do this; but where it’s possible, we’ll send them back to clear their conscience and ask forgiveness. Now, we’re talking about even the dumpee, even the person who was faithful to the relationship. We want them to go back, if possible, clear their conscience, so that from that point forward they will know that they’ve done everything within their power to make right what they’ve done to contribute to the breakdown of the marriage.
Then, we go forward from there because, again, they feel guilty. One of the issues we have to deal with in their life is guilt—not guilt for terminating the relationship—that was often done by the other person—but guilt for the things that they know that they did to contribute to that relationship, even though they’re the dumpee, not the dumper.
Bob: So wait just a second. I have a friend who found out in her marriage that the man she thought was her faithful, godly, loving husband was a serial philanderer. She had no idea; and all of a sudden, it explodes. She finds out he’s been with a number of women. You’re saying that you would counsel her to go back and seek his forgiveness for something?
Lou: I would, at least, have her take a look. There’s an inventory, actually in one of the appendices in the book; but I would have her take a look at the beam in her own eyes—to remove it first, even if it ends up being only a splinter—to acknowledge her small contribution to the breakdown of the marriage, even though it may only be two or three percent.
You notice I have not used the word “innocent” partner. Nobody is innocent. We’re all guilty. I’ve used the word “faithful” partner and “unfaithful”. I think, even for the faithful partner, it’s important to go back and to acknowledge—ask forgiveness for those things that the faithful partner has done to contribute to the breakdown of the marriage, even though it may be a very, very small percent—because the Bible tells us over and over again of the importance of having a clear conscience.
Bob: Yes, but you know how counter-cultural—you’re talking, “I’m going back—my two percent—‘I’d like to ask for your forgiveness, you lousy, no-good’” —
Lou: Well, we wouldn’t exactly encourage them to do it that way because, at the end of the day, I want you to have a clear conscience.
I even use the illustration of a purple heart. I say, “You know, when this thing is over, whether you reconcile with your spouse or not, the more purple hearts you have,” —purple heart, meaning being wounded in the line of duty, wounded in the line of being a faithful Christian in the process, perhaps even of trying to reconcile the marriage— “when it’s over, if you’re able to save the marriage by God’s grace, you’ll be thankful for being wounded in the line of duty. If the marriage doesn’t work out, you’ll know and the people in your future will know, that you went the second and the third mile doing everything possible to clear your conscience—everything possible—if it is even possible to reconcile this relationship.”
Dennis: You don’t need to be defended, but I want to defend your position for just a moment—
Lou: Please do.
Dennis: —because I’m just sitting here thinking of a person who right now is really in a deep valley because of a divorce. I don’t think this act you’re talking about is possible right now; but for that person, ultimately, to be able to regain the emotional stability, and strength, and spiritual stamina to go and fulfill Romans, Chapter 12, verse 18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Now, it doesn’t mean you’re going to clear up all the past. It doesn’t mean everything is going to be all pristine, and perfect, and you’re going to reconcile; but what it does do, and what I can see happening here, is at a point—again, not instantly—it may be a matter of months, maybe even years before this occurs—but at the point it occurs, it releases that person from the shame, the guilt, and the emotion of carrying the weight of feeling like, “I did something to help cause my spouse to have an affair, to cause them to leave me, to reject me, to choose another person over me; and I want to clear that up.”
Lou: Even if the other person is not able, for any number of reasons—if it is possible, and it’s not always possible —as much as depends on you, live at peace with all men. Even if the person is not able to go back and actually ask the other person’s forgiveness, knowing that through the counseling process they have evaluated the specific things that they have done to contribute to the breakdown of that marriage will better prepare them for their future and future relationships. I think it’s very, very important.
Dennis: It really releases them from the downward spiral of grief, and shame, and just continuing to implode as a person; right?
Bob: The person who comes into your office after a break-up, whether it’s a divorce or—and maybe we should stop and talk about how adultery factors in an intact marriage because you define, even if the marriage is intact, if there’s been adultery, there’s been a break-up of some kind; right?
Lou: That’s right. Typically, what happens—is the first thing—there’s a breakdown in the one-flesh relationship. The couple doesn’t function as a one-flesh unit. They actually stop communicating. They stop doing the things that they used to do to foster that one-flesh relationship. They stop revealing who they are to each other. They stop communicating at an intimate level. Once that happens, it’s just a downward spiral. Whenever you see this adulterous affair situation going on, invariably, first there was a breakdown in the one-flesh intimacy between the husband and the wife.
Dennis: We talk at the Weekend to Remember®about isolation and that marriage was designed by God for oneness; but if we don’t break this cycle you’re talking about, two people who are isolated are set up to be convinced of anything, including a relationship with someone outside the marriage. That’s what you’re saying here.
Bob: So, if somebody comes into your office and says, “I just learned that my wife has been unfaithful for many months with somebody. It all came to light. I’m devastated. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I want to make the marriage work, but I’m hurting. I’m angry. It’s like an emotional explosion has gone off.” Where do you start?
Lou: Well, probably the first place to start, if I only have the person who is the faithful individual, is to make sure they understand about forgiveness. Now, sometimes forgiveness means you have to do what Jesus said you should do in Luke 17:3 and confront the other person; but the most important thing there initially is to deal with the bitterness and the anger that has crept in—but more important than that, what we will try to do is to bring in the unfaithful partner. Usually, thankfully, in the counseling that I do, most of the time we have both—in which case, I will explain to the unfaithful partner that he has got to do two things. I’ll sort of maybe tell this story:
I’ll say, “When you met Nancy, you opened the bank account. You invested a lot of time, and effort, and thought into her bank account. You share your life with her, you share your table with her, you share your bed with her, and you share your body with her. You guys share everything, and you were basically putting all of your investments in her bank account.
“Well, then, one day you get this flyer in the mail from First Federal Freda. You notice that she’s giving a better interest rate and has a few more perks going on. You ended up taking some of the things that you invested in Nancy’s bank account and started putting them over in Freda’s bank account.
“Well, now, you’ve got to do two things, if you want this marriage to work. First, you’ve got to close the second bank account. You’ve got to close the bank account that you have with Freda.”
Dennis: Terminate it.
Lou: Terminate it, as quickly as possible.
Dennis: Just a side issue here—I had a friend who needed some counseling in a situation. I said, “Would you go see a counselor friend of mine?” My counselor buddy said, “Only if that guy breaks off the relationship he’s got with the woman outside his marriage.” Okay?
Dennis: He would not see him until he closed the bank account.
Bob: When you say, “Close the account,” you mean close the account and don’t go visit the branch—
Lou: That’s right.
Bob: —because somebody will say, “Yes, I closed the account; but I still go by and see Freda, from time to time.”
Lou: Remember, the first thing is to close the bank account; but that’s where most counseling fails because they just want you to close the bank account. That’s not enough; okay? It’s like Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” You’ve got treasures in one bank account, you’ve got treasures in another bank account—you’ve got feelings for both women. You not only have to close that bank account, you’ve got to systematically invest what you took from Nancy and gave to Freda and put it back into Nancy’s account.
Bob: “But I don’t have feelings for Nancy anymore. My feelings are for Freda.”
Dennis: Well here’s the thing with Freda. Freda’s bank is located on an island in the South Pacific. It’s beautiful. It’s a fantasy. There’s very little reality that takes place with Freda. It’s all about the affair.
Bob: There’s excitement.
Dennis: Yes; and the other one, Nancy—
Bob: A lot of real life attached to that one—
Dennis: Oh, man. I mean, it’s got bundles of clothes, and bills, and snotty-nosed kids. You wonder why one bank account gets the investment.
Lou: But it’s guilt-free! The consequences—the wages of sin is death. Sin produces misery, and not only that; but do you really think God is going to bless this unholy relationship that God hates and that is causing so much pain and sorrow for your wife and for your children?
Bob: But the guy who says, “I know that’s the right thing to do, but my feelings are just so skewed at this point. I’m just so drawn to Freda.”
Lou: Bob, do you remember when you fell in love with your wife?
Bob: Yes, I do.
Lou: Okay. How did that happen? Did you get shot with some kind of arrow from the outside and, all of a sudden, you had these warm fuzzies?
Bob: Umm, it felt a little like that; but no, looking back on it—
Lou: No! How did you get all those feelings? You created those romantic feelings in your own heart by what you did for her, and to her, and with her. If she was doing the same things, then the feelings grew!
Then, what happens in these cases, typically, is the person stops courting, stops making those investments into the bank account. The feelings start to wane, and they start to develop over here. The bottom line is—it is like what Jesus told the church in Revelation, Chapter 2. Remember? They fell out of love with Him.
Bob: Yes— “lost your first love.”
Lou: Yes. What did He say? He said, “I want you to reach down into the depths of your love cup and stir up all of these warm fuzzies...” Is that what He said?
Lou: No. He told them three things. He said, “Remember the way you used to be. Repent. Change your thinking, and the direction of your life, and do your first works.” If you are willing to do the things that you used to do, to think the things that you used to do, in time, your feelings for Freda will atrophy and your feelings for Nancy will develop stronger, even than they were from the beginning.
But the bottom line, “If you allowed this thing to happen—if this thing happened—your marriage was not as strong as it could be.” I could tell you—the overwhelming majority of people that we see and we counsel—who have been going through adulterous affairs—on the other side of it, their marriages are stronger than they were at the beginning because, for the first time, they’ve really committed themselves to a biblical view of marriage.
Dennis: Okay, so here’s what you have to do if you’re a listener and you find yourself being double-minded—you’ve got two different bank accounts. First of all, you have to cancel your flight to the South Pacific to visit Freda’s place; and you have to terminate that relationship. Quite honestly, you ought to do it in the presence of a same-sex friend, who can hold you accountable and say, “If you pick up a phone, you are an idiot! You can’t go there. You can’t call her. You can’t continue to go visit that branch of the bank.”
Secondly, I think you have to take stock of your relationship with God and figure out, “How did you get there in the first place?” Use the pain the sin brought you to drive you back to your relationship with Jesus Christ. And then third, you need to do the deeds you did at first.
A part of what would help you do that—and I’m going to get practical here, Bob—I would say to the couple that’s going through this, “Go to the Weekend to Remember® because it will give you the blueprints, it will give you some practical projects that will empower you to rebuild some romance, to rebuild some trust, to learn how to forgive going forward, and practically speaking, build oneness in your relationship rather than isolation.
Lou: Let me just give testimony to that. I’ve counseled a number of people, through our counseling center, who, in the process of trying to rebuild a marriage, just like we’re talking about, went to the Weekend to Remember. They’ve come back with glowing reports of how helpful it was to their marriage and to the whole restoration process.
Bob: Well, it’s interesting because, over the years, we’ve had a number of couples who were in a real dark spot in their marriage—for whatever reason, whether it was marital infidelity, or any number of issues that caused them to drift toward isolation. God has used the Weekend to Remember in a lot of those situations to bring those couples back, not just temporarily, but to realign and readjust the direction of their marriage so that today they can give testimony to the fact that their marriage is better than it ever was.
We’re just kicking off, right now, our fall season of Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link you find there to find out more about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
You will also find information about Lou Priolo’s helpful book, Picking Up the Pieces: Recovering from Broken Relationships. We have the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Order a copy from us when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free, 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
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That CD is our gift to you this month when you make a donation to support FamilyLife Today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and press the button that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation; and we’ll send you the CD automatically. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make your donation over the phone. Just ask for a copy of the CD, “What Husbands Wish Their Wives Knew about Men” when you make your donation by phone. We do appreciate your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We couldn’t do what we do without you. Thanks very much.
And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation with Lou Priolo about how you mend what was broken in a relationship, and how you deal with the hurt and pain in your own heart, as well. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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