“Are you serious? How can you go back to your husband?” This woman was so angry upon hearing that a friend was going back to her husband after his infidelity that she was shaking. The two women had gotten together at a restaurant for breakfast. The extramarital affair was widely known. “It would be stupid to go back!” the wife’s friend insisted.
The husband was repentant and wanted to save their marriage. The couple were working with Greg and Julie Alexander who offer marriage enrichment and personal coaching through The Alexander House. The wife called Julie and wondered if maybe it was stupid to work to save the marriage. “Absolutely not!” Julie told her. She and Greg have seen many couples heal from such situations. Their own marriage would have ended in divorce if they had not learned how to find strength and healing through their faith.
Julie warns against being influenced negatively by friends. There are many cases when a woman must leave for her own safety, but others leave for reasons that are not serious, often heavily influenced by friends.
Since women are the most likely to file for divorce, they are at the greatest risk for being influenced by friends. Sex differences in who files for divorce reveals that in Europe, Australia and the U.S., women are the most likely to leave a marriage. In 1862, women initiated about 62 percent of divorces in the U.S., and that number is now close to 70 percent.
To be clear, no one says that women are more at fault, just that they are more likely to initiate divorce. Julie and Greg work with couples to save their marriages, and Julie has also created an online community called Club 11 for women to support each other through prayer and shared stories with the Blessed Mother as their patron. (There is an $11 monthly membership fee that includes podcasts and many other resources.)
Julie understands how friends can pressure each other to divorce. “I once had a successful career and was surrounded by friends who encouraged me to live a life opposite of what I do now,” she said. “Your friends do not like to see you in pain and believe they are doing you a favor.”
In their coaching, the Alexanders discourage enabling bad behavior. “Sacrificial love is not being abused,” Julie explained. “Some of these men have not been taught by their fathers how to treat a woman. It’s about coming together and doing it God’s way, not their way. The husband and wife made that commitment to God.”
When Julie talks to wives, she encourages them to fast and pray for their husbands and learn how to be the heart of the family and to love like they’ve never loved before. “They will tell me, ‘Thank you! No one is telling me that. Everyone is telling me I’m crazy and I need to get out.’”
Be Careful Whom You Tell
This is not to say that men are not also negatively influenced by others. “It is so sad when we get couples that have been told by almost everyone that they should end the marriage,” Julie said. “When we disciple a couple, we advise them not to tell others—especially family—about their issues. Their family and friends will have a hard time forgetting.”
According to Julie, everyone should be cautious about the company they keep. “As they say, misery loves company,” she said. “When someone calls and says that they want to get out of their marriage, it’s common to discover that they have someone encouraging them to do so. There is such a thing as a spirit of divorce and you see circles of friends all divorcing at the same time.”
Make All Things New
Even among some counselors, Julie explained there can be a tendency to give up too quickly. This happened in Greg and Julie’s own case.
“Couples will call and say, ‘We do not want to separate, and we do not want to get an annulment, we are looking for help in our marriage. Can you help us?’” she said. “We always tell them: ‘God is committed to your marriage; this is just a wake-up call to invite him to be a part of your relationship.’ When we open our hearts to God, he can make all things new.”
When I co-authored Amazing Grace for Married Couples, I witnessed the extent to which God really can make all things new. Infidelities, addictions of all kinds, and an emptiness that seemed unrecoverable were healed, and love blossomed in a deeper, more mature way. The aunt of a priest in our diocese started giving the book for wedding presents after she had given it to a couple that had been in a troubled marriage, and was later told it had saved them from divorce.
The example of other couples going from extreme unhappiness to falling in love again is proof of the healing power of God’s grace. He can indeed raise the dead, and he proves it in marriage after marriage.
Couples should not wait, however, until their marriage is on life support before getting help. Barbara Lishko, a lay Catholic marriage minister at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church, Arizona, married for 38 years to Mark, an ordained deacon, said that couples typically wait until crises mode before getting help.
“Often, they did not have good marriage preparation, or they have deep wounds from their family of origin or bad past experiences—such as porn use, abortion, a bad sexual history— that surfaces,” Barbara said. “What is most common is that they are not praying together, worshiping together or making their marriage relationship primary.”
She also cautions about talking to friends about marriage problems. “Girlfriends and work buddies won't necessarily support the marriage,” Barbara said. “That poison takes on a life of its own and fuels divorce thinking,” she said. “Counselors also sometimes give up too soon. They should help the couple fight for the marriage and give them the tools, resources, and support to effectively do that.”
Barbara said that the first and best step is to make God a priority. “He wants their marriage to thrive,” she said. “Start with prayer for strength, guidance, growth in love and virtue, and for their spouse.”
Sometimes just the action of prayer does wonders, Barbara explained. Other times, couples need a mediator to bring them back together to at least begin the conversation and help them see where each has played a part in the situation. According to her, problems like addictions need professional help, and couples can benefit from dedicated mentors and friends to pray for the marriage and offer a support system.
In her article “Dear Struggling Marriages,” Barbara noted, it takes work and commitment, but: “With God’s help and the healing power of confession, anything is possible… It’s all up to you whether you are a part of a miracle, or just another statistic.”