Seasons of LonelinessFebruary 18, 2009
Ever felt like you are carrying the heavier load in your marriage? Susie Larson recounts the one-sided season of loneliness in her marriage when her husband’s work left her feeling isolated and unloved.
Ever felt like you are carrying the heavier load in your marriage? Susie Larson recounts the one-sided season of loneliness in her marriage when her husband’s work left her feeling isolated and unloved.
Seasons of Loneliness
Susie: I had mentors in my life that really helped me, would point me out forward, would never let me get away with a bad attitude, and that is just so important. You know, they rehash all defenses, they re-injure you, and they make you made. There is a very big difference of sitting around with a bunch of women bashing your husband – that's sin – versus getting with someone who walks in the fear of the Lord, who you have given permission to call you up, call you on the carpet, and then you say, "I am so bad."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 18th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. When you get to a point in your marriage where you don't know what to do, do you have people you can turn to? We'll talk about that on today's program. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. Have you ever had a season in your 35 years of marriage to Barbara where you felt like it was a one-sided season? Where you felt alone? I mean, I know Barbara had health issues. Did you feel that was a one-sided season when she was dealing with her heart issues?
Dennis: You know, I never would have described it using those words as our guest on today's broadcast has done but, yes, uh-huh. And we've gone through crises in our marriage before, as our family has faced certain challenges where it's easy to begin to feel like this is a very one-sided marriage, and our relationship is only going one way, and I'm not getting as much out of this as I'd hoped for or bargained for or my expectations are.
Bob: Then you start to feel alone like that, and you get frustrated and angry at the other person, and it can press you into deeper and deeper isolation, can't it?
Dennis: It can. And, in fact, Bob, a number of years ago, Barbara and I actually wrote a book that, in its title, talks about this – "Lonely Husbands, Lonely Wives." We've retitled that book, "Staying Close," just to offer more hope to couples.
Bob: Because nobody wanted to buy a book called "Lonely Husbands, Lonely Wives?"
Dennis: Well, I wasn't going to say that, Bob, because our guest on today's program wrote a book, "Alone in Marriage," and yet I think "Alone in Marriage," really speaks of where a lot of couples really live. Susie Larson joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Susie, welcome back.
Susie: Thank you so much.
Bob: You've had folks tell you they weren't sure they wanted to buy a book called "Alone in Marriage," and take it home, right?
Susie: Right, there's a whole book club, actually, that puts stickers on their books so – because they just didn't want their husbands to feel bad. They are feeling alone for whatever reason, but they wanted to nurse their own soul without exposing that they're reading this. But other women who have said, "I am so alone that he won't even notice if I'm reading a book on "Alone in Marriage."
So, you know, a lot of people have said the content is much bigger than the title, but …
Dennis: You and your husband have been married since 1985. You have three sons, you're a freelance writer, live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and this is really a story of your own marriage, which started out with your husband in that season of being alone in marriage.
Bob: Yes, you described two significant one-sided seasons. The first was when you were battling Lyme's disease and going through health crises, and your husband had to shoulder the weight of marriage and family and being alone. But then a couple of years later, his job was heating up, and the building program at the church came in, and now you were in isolation because he was just so consumed with everything else going on, and those seasons of aloneness – those can cause a marriage to collapse. There are couples who don't survive the season because they think this is what life's going to be for the rest, and I can't do this.
Susie: I found two responses to loneliness and feeling alone in marriage – women are either getting out or their checking out. They are walking out at unprecedented rates, or they're saying, "I'll stay, but I'm checking out. I'm doing my own thing, I'm shutting down." My purpose in writing the book was to hold the hand of the woman walking through this season and say, "Regardless of why this is happening to you, let's talk about what it's doing in you."
And I interviewed lots of women from various reasons for these one-sided seasons, and in each chapter have a story where a military woman whose husband was deployed or depressed or building a business. What was interesting, my interviewing women, is the same things came up regardless of these reasons. And so I wanted to just speak to the issues, the anger, the loneliness, the fear, and one by one by one try to reconcile those things with the promises of God.
For instance, you may have a legitimate right to your anger, but if you cherish your anger more than you cherish the promises of God, it will blow up in your face. And so we have to look at what it's doing in us if we want to learn to thrive.
Bob: And you've identified some common temptations that face men or women who find themselves feeling isolated in marriage – things like a temptation to relax spiritually or to stay shallow spiritually. Now, that seems almost counterintuitive that somebody who is going through a trial and feeling isolated would say – and maybe you don't say it consciously, but the temptation is just to let your spiritual life slide?
Susie: Right, it was very interesting, and I called that temptation "live in the shallows," and it's kind of like, well, if you're going to be gone doing your thing, I just kind of go to the shallows because it doesn't feel so bad here. You can't really hold onto bad attitudes and dabble in things that you shouldn't be when you're really walking closely with God, because the conviction of the Holy Spirit is going to get you.
But when you start to kind of wander away and live in the shallow place and kind of lose your step-by-step walk with God, it's easier to dabble in some of those things. But if all times that you are at risk for a major fallout, you know, morally, spiritually, is a time when you are a lonely marriage. If any time you should have those arms and legs wrapped around the vine, it would be in that season.
Bob: So the idea that's, again, maybe not consciously but subconsciously playing out in somebody's mind is if I can stay shallow, if I don't pursue with passion my relationship with Christ, then I can indulge my flesh a little more?
Susie: Well, I don't think it's that intentional, but what I understand and what I see is that, you know, to me, it's an intentional thing to hang onto the vine. I mean, it's an intentional thing to stay in oneness with God. What happens is the current – they kind of loosen their grasp because of disappointment, helplessness, which you understand completely, but then the current just takes them downstream, and before they know it, they've found themselves kind of more in a shallow place, we're like, "How did I get here where things don't bug me – you know, or convict me like they normally would." I find myself spending hours in chatrooms or reading racy novels or things I never would normally do, but I'm kind of medicating my pain, which you understand, but, again, it can be very devastating to your health.
Let me tell you a story that is just profound to me. I often – I wrote this in the book – that we are called to love people and hope in God, and it's very easy to subtly shift your hopes to your spouse without even realizing you've done, and you can even do that with very little consequence in times of favor where you start to just hope in your husband.
I have a friend whose spouse, early on in marriage, was hiding some severe addictions, was unfaithful, and dabbling in things that devastated her. And it rocked her world. And it took them a few years to re-establish their marriage and trust again. Well, more recently, years later, she finds out here he is again back in these things. And this is a woman of God, and she said the marriage was over, I was freefalling, I was devastated.
And she said, "And one time during her prayer time, she said God so clearly spoke to her and said you're freefalling because, yes, you walk, but you've been holding my hand and expecting your husband to carry you, and most women do this, where it should be the other way around. You hold your husband's hand, and I'm carrying you because your husband is going to let go sometimes, and when he does, I've still got you."
And she said it was a major shift in perspective. This woman to me is heroic in the way that she navigates through one disappointment after another, and she is one of many that I have seen, and married to incredibly selfish, self-centered people. But taking God's Word as it stands and nourishing her own soul, finding it to be true and actually growing in a very desolate place. I mean, growth can happen in those places.
So I think it's a really important distinction. You're hoping in your husband – or you're loving him and hoping in God, and that's really important to take a look at that.
Dennis: I want to talk more about some of the temptations you've found as you've interacted with women, but I've got a very practical question to ask you. I wonder if this ever happened in your marriage. Did your sons ever ask a question about what's going on with you and Dad? Did they notice that you were missing each other?
Susie: They barely noticed it at all. One thing I felt strongly convicted about was always speaking well of him to them, and so now, you know, they're 18, 20, and 22, and I've asked them, "Did that feel like a scary time?" They said, "We didn't even really realize what was going on. We didn't think there was anything wrong going on. We knew Dad was gone," but I would say, you know, "Dad's doing such an important thing," and I just felt like that was my role, and I really had to do it. People may argue both sides of that. That's what I did. I honored him to them, and we got through it.
So they never really seemed like they were unsettled about it. They missed him, and he wasn't at some things of theirs, but they didn't even get upset or bitter about it. I really felt like God shielded them in our situation.
Dennis: Weren't you afraid, though, in that situation of speaking well of his workaholism, that you were reinforcing that into their lives at that point?
Susie: That never entered my mind, to tell you the truth, because I was hanging on with everything in me to take the honorable path at times, you know, and so I wanted to bless him. I was mad at him, but there was no way I was going to speak ill of him to the kids.
Now, since then, we've sat down and had some very long talks about workaholism and what that does to a marriage, because they're at that age, and they're ready to hear that. But we're not in a hot spot that – for me, that wasn't the time because there was some fire in my belly.
Bob: Yeah, it probably wasn't the time because the words you would have chosen at that point wouldn't have necessarily been honoring or affirming words, and I think it's wise to guard our tongues in the midst of these kinds of valleys. Be very careful about what you say, and you were committed to that.
Dennis: I've heard the principle – "It is better to be kind than right." And I think with our children, it's much better for them to hear you speaking kindly and honorably, as you said, about your spouse than to be precise and slicing and dicing the sin that they may see their father employed in.
Susie: You know, I read in one of my devotionals – I can't remember the author, but they were from the 1800s, and they said something about, "Don't have pride in your acute observation ability." You know, and sometimes you see people have this acute observation of everybody's frailties and their ability to articulate what's wrong with the situation and the person, and, like you said, there is nothing to be frightful in that about.
But, anyway, what I will just say about my boys is having honest, gut-level conversations as a family now and the humility of my husband to be able to say that to them that there is no life in that and that to model now what's important is really leaving them with a real security. And it's interesting when I ask them – "Did you feel insecure during those time?" And they just didn't even know what I was talking about. So, to me, that was a success.
Bob: Let me ask you about a different temptation that you've talked with other women about, and I don't know if you sensed this yourself as you were going through this season of loneliness, but there can be a temptation to want to look good for other men, right?
Susie: Right, mm-hm. Again, I will say, personally, I didn't struggle with that because of sexual abuse things. I tend to not trust men and be afraid at times, and so I'm more protective that way. But I've talked to a lot of women who have said when their husband stopped noticing them, if they're absent, if they come down in a nice outfit, and he misses it, that there is that temptation when other men start to notice them, to kind of feed into that.
Interestingly, the other extreme to that is women who completely let themselves go, where they just are wearing sweats, they're eating a lot, and they just don't even comb their hair because why bother? And so those are two temptations, more often than not, it was women trying to get needs met from other men and dabbling in that. Even, you know, flirtations in the church parking lot. It's amazing how often that kind of thing happens.
Bob: That is incredibly dangerous.
Bob: Did these women know that they were kindling fire when they were doing that?
Susie: Well, again, I would link this with the temptation of living in the shallows, you know, when you kind of start to let go of really a close-knit walk with God where His convicting spirit is right there. You know, you can do those things and think about it later – "Oooof, I probably shouldn't have done that," but, you know, it's really shocking how often – when you start to feel so lonely, and someone else is noticing something that your husband isn't, that it's maybe feeding something.
And so my – the call, the temptation, is to look good for other men or to let yourself go. To me the call was "take care of yourself because you're made in the image of God" – but for no other reason – that you're made in the image of God, and you're married to someone. Your heart is spoken for.
Dennis: Yes, and I also hear a call to the Proverb, "Guard your heart, for from it flow the wellsprings of life." You are talking about a woman who is aware that maybe she is in an unhealthy situation, and she can tend to overcompensate by looking for approval, appreciation. She's vulnerable. She needs to realize where she is as a woman and guard her heart and protect it.
Susie: Amen. You know, I did a word study on that verse, and the word "guard" is a masculine noun, and they gave two word pictures. One of a prison guard guarding his prisoner, and a man guarding his land against intruders, and the stance and the posture was so strong, and I've told women that's a masculine noun, but it's a call for all of us.
And so when you think of – when you're in those vulnerable places, know that the enemy of your soul is going to put potential flames, old flames, new flames, in your path that will massage your ego but completely threaten your footage. Don't think for a minute it's because you're so great. It's because the devil wants to take you out. And to have that stance, of a strong stance, "I'm not letting this thing in. I'm guarding – the devil will not steal this from me," and it's a strong woman who, in the face of being neglected, will guard her heart and not let herself be seduced.
Dennis: And sometimes the attack can occur within the Christian community.
Susie: Oh, yes, which is so – your guard is down there, I would guess, you know?
Dennis: A small group at church, maybe it's a fine Christian man who is spiritually connecting with her, a pastor, she's got to be real careful.
Susie: Very much so.
Bob: You know, as we've tried to unpack this subject of being alone in marriage this week, I know there are listeners who are thinking you've talked about these seasons of a one-sided marriage, and your season was a couple of years with your husband while he was helping to build the church building. And they're thinking, "You're just in the minor leagues of alone in marriage."
Susie: I know, absolutely.
Dennis: Yes, in fact, let me take you to the major leagues, okay? Let's say a woman is married to a man who refuses to take care of his father duties – doesn't pay the bills for the family. That means he's not paying the car insurance, doesn't pay for the homeowner insurance, doesn't pay the bills for the rent or for the house payment, maybe they have a large family, and they have no will. Okay, so here we're talking about issues.
Susie: You are not kidding, and I'll tell you, this is why I didn't want to write this book because it felt like a subject far over my head, and I put it down and put it down, and as I started to ask questions of these women who are in the major league of suffering, they asked for it, and so I got information from them and did my best to convey truths that, to me, God's Word is still true. But I've talked to women whose husbands never get off the couch; whose husbands could care less if they're suffering. It's truly amazing the suffering, and it's over my head, but it's not over God's head, and His Word is true.
Bob: So to the woman who is in a situation where this kind of loneliness hasn't just gone on a couple of years, but a couple of decades, and it looks like this is what marriage will be – this is my lot in life. I will be alone in marriage – it's as far back as I can remember, and it's as far forward as I can see, and it aches. And it aches every day, and you would say, "press into Jesus and hang on."
Susie: And find a new normal, so to speak. I have a friend who is in and has been for over a decade in a one-sided season or one-sided marriage. And she, for a while, stopped going to church because she thought, "I'm going to wait on him." She stopped all kinds of things thinking, "I'm going to wait on him," and what she realized was her strength, her perspective, everything went out the door, and it actually weakened her. And so she had to find a new normal in that season, because it was one season after another.
And so she re-established and said, "Even if you don't go with me, I'm going to nourish my soul," and, to me, it reminds me of when you're flying, and they tell you "Put your own mask on first – in the event of an emergency, put an oxygen mask on yourself and then assist those who are with you." There is a point where if he's dropping the ball over and over again and leaving you, there are some things about your soul and your health and your life that you have to care for, and you have to do them, and it's hard, and it's difficult, and it's a bummer that your husband isn't leading the way spiritually, but that's what you have to do.
Bob: And the temptation that that woman feels – "If I'd only change my circumstances, get a different person in here or just leave this man, then maybe I could have a day of happiness." You're saying that's the enemy that's putting those thoughts in your head?
Susie: Well, or your own flesh, and I can't even begin to even speak from there. I can't imagine what that is like but, again, talking to women, women who have been there, ask those questions, tempted in their own mind to walk away with another man, have come back and said, "This is where God has called me. I have made a promise to God and to this husband of mine. I am going to find a way to thrive in this place even if I'm not getting from my husband what I should get, I'm going to get from God. He is my husband in this situation, I'm going to draw from him."
And you can't even believe some of the stories that I've heard from women. One woman e-mailed me and just said, "I had a bouquet of flowers on my desk that one of the salesmen brought them in and left them there. It was a for a conference that got canceled, and so she, all week long, had this beautiful bouquet of flowers, and she said the more that she started to look to the Lord for the things that her husband was not doing for her, she said, "I feel like like I'm enjoying a sacred romance. God understands my needs, and I'm looking to Him to meet those needs."
And so she could stare at her husband all day long and say, "Why won't you be the man I want you to be," but she sort of shifted her focus and said, "This is really sad. I've got to find a way to care for myself, but in the midst of that, I'm looking to you," and it's really quite remarkable, the things that God put in her path along the way.
Dennis: As you were talking, I was thinking just about the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Bible speaks of all three. The world makes a bunch of false promises and creates a fantasy of marriage and of needs being met because of Hollywood and how we glamorize relationships that aren't going to happen this side of heaven.
The flesh really has high expectations and really wants to be satisfied, and I think it would be true for most marriages, if not all – I think all of us live in marriages where some of our expectations won't ever be met. I mean, it's just a part of life.
Susie: That's right.
Dennis: And, third, the enemy wants to lie to you. He wants to whisper to your soul – "You can get a better deal somewhere else." And in the process you can – well, go against what you promised and break a covenant, and when you do that, you're headed for some bad territory at that point.
Susie, I just appreciate you, your book, "Alone in Marriage," your honesty, and your willingness to allow Bob and me to really discuss a tough issue, because I think all marriages, at times, experience this aloneness that you talk about in your book. Thanks for being on FamilyLife Today.
Susie: Thank you so much. It's been a great privilege to be here.
Bob: And for those who are interested, we have copies of the book, "Alone in Marriage," in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and there is information available there about the book. You can order a copy online from us, if you'd like, and there is also information available there about the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember getaway weekend retreats that we have for couples. The Weekend Marriage Conference that we do in cities all across the country, and one of the things that we talk about at the conference is how in every marriage there is a natural drift toward isolation, and unless couples are growing in Christ and applying the Scriptures, that's the direction your marriage is going to head. But if you want to have intimacy and closeness in marriage, then you've got to be working toward it.
And the Weekend to Remember getaway for couples is a great opportunity for you to have a fun, romantic, relaxing retreat and, at the same time, hear from real-life couples who have gone through a lot of what you're going through and have learned how to apply the Scriptures in their marriage and to pursue oneness with each other.
You'll find more information about the Weekend to Remember on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and you can register for an upcoming conference online or you can call us toll-free at 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Just give us a call and someone on our team can either answer any questions you have about Susie's book or about our weekend getaway for couples or they can make arrangements to have the resources you need sent to you or get you registered for a conference.
We want to say a quick word of thanks today to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. As I think most of our listeners know, we are a non-profit organization, and the primary funding for this ministry comes from folks like you who send in a donation from time to time to say "We want to make sure FamilyLife Today continues on our local station, we want to make sure that the website, FamilyLifeToday.com, continues to be available, and we want to support the work that you are doing not only across the country but around the world."
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Now, tomorrow we're going to spend some time talking to Jim and Ginger Plowman about a conflict early in their marriage that left both of them wondering, "How do we fix this and is there hope for us as a couple?" We'll unpack some of that tomorrow, and I hope you can be with us for that.
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'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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