Finding the root of pain in your marriage…

Today’s guest post is from Laura Petherbridge. Laura is a 2012 Hearts at Home workshop speaker whose speaking topics include relationships, divorce prevention, singleness, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When ‘I Do’ Becomes ‘I Don’t’—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce. Her newest book, The Smart Stepmom, is coauthored with Ron Deal. You can find Laura online at


“Why is the divorce rate so high in the church?” the radio host mundanely asked.

“Because the church is not addressing the root reasons why marriages are failing,” I responded.

His voice revealed a tone of surprise. I’m certain he expected me to say, “Stress over money.”

Now curious, he probed, “What do you mean?

“The church is doing an excellent job of teaching couples about communication, intimacy, how to respect each other, and gender differences. However, those are not the root reasons why people are divorcing.”

I had his full attention.

“In my 20 plus years in divorce recovery ministry I’ve discovered that the root reasons why people divorce are rarely uncovered. And this is why the problem persists.”

“Imagine a man having a heart attack and experiencing pain in his left arm. If his doctor treats his symptom—the arm pain—this man will die. The arm pain is merely a symptom of a much deeper problem. In the church we are treating the symptoms—the arm pain—not the cause of death.”

I shared a recent conversation to illustrate my point.

“I think my marriage is over,” the woman lamented.

“My husband owns a very successful business, and we fight about money. He is tired of the battles and has filed for divorce. We are Christians, and I hate divorce, but I don’t know what else to do,” she continued.

“Usually the battles are about bills. I grew up poor, so sometimes I go overboard buying stuff for the kids. When he gets mad he punches holes in the walls, throws things and calls me horrible names. It’s been 16 years like this, I can’t take it anymore. ”

“We have been to three different counselors over the last two years. The first few sessions go fairly well. The counselor assesses the situation, but then around the third session my husband refuses to continue.”

“That’s usually when the counselor wants to address my husband’s childhood, and his abusive father. At which point my husband abruptly stands up, signals ‘stop’ with his hand and says, ‘I came here to discuss the problems in our marriage, and how my wife disrespects me—not my father. He has nothing to do with my marriage.’

“And then he storms out of the room, refusing to return.” She cried.

When I questioned the woman as to why she believes her marriage is failing she responded, “Stress over money.”

I wholeheartedly disagree.

Money is the symptom—the left arm pain—in the heart attack that is killing her marriage, not the cause. It’s where the pain is showing up. However, the demise is due to a MUCH deeper issue.

This husband endured horrible physical and verbal abuse as a child, mostly at the hand of his father. His mother did protest, but she did nothing to stop it. The cruelty assaulted this little boy’s soul, heart, mind, and self-worth.

Unless this husband decides to let Jesus, the Great Physician, heal him the pain and anger from those wounds will continue to reside and fester.

Hurt People—Hurt People.

To complicate the situation further, his wife grew up in an alcoholic home. She learned a “peace at all costs” mentality as the way to handle conflict. So for 16 years she tolerated her husband’s rants, and made excuses for his behavior.

“The “root” pain each spouse brought into the marriage created a toxic formula which brewed beneath the surface,” I shared with the radio host. “Money became the outward sign of an inward poison.”

“Wow! I never thought of it that way,” He declared.

What about you?  Have you ever dug into the root issues your marriage challenges?  What have you discovered?

Jill’s note: In Laura Petherbridge’s DVD The Pursuit for Happily Ever After she works to  shine a bright light into Satan’s dark secrets. Her years in divorce recovery ministry have revealed the enemy’s plot of destruction.  As Laura says, “I‘m tired of it. My prayer is that the church is too.”


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9 thoughts on “Finding the root of pain in your marriage…

  1. Wow! What a great post. Thank you so much for posting it. Thank you for addressing such an important topic! Perfect explanation.

  2. Wow! was also my first reaction. I believe I have a solid marriage, but not without issues, so I’m praying and listening hard to God’s answers about my own and my husband’s “root” issues. Love covers a multitude of sins, and I’m determined to love over all. Thanks, Jill and Laura.

  3. Thanks for this post on marriage. It touches my heart. My passion for marriage and the pain and poor testimony of too many Christian marriages exploding prompted me to write, “We All Married Idiots: Three Things You Will Never Change About Your Marriage and Ten Things You Can” being published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas in April 2012. One reviewer wrote: “Elaine has touched upon so many truths in this book. With gentle wit, humor and wisdom, she points out where so many of us go wrong in a marriage, the ways we tear down with our hands what God means to be built up for His glory and our good.”

    Laura, I’ll pray for your marriage. Hold on, dear sister. Sit tight and let God work.

    Love and prayers,
    Elaine W. Miller

      • Hi Jill,

        Thanks for asking.

        “We All Married Idiots: Three Things You Will Never Change About Your Marriage and Ten Things You Can” is not an article but a book being released next month.

        I pray it helps couples concentrate on the ten things they can change instead of the three things they cannot. Then, they will treasure their spouses as gifts to treasure, not as idiots to tolerate.

        I tried to end my marrige three times the first year we were married. I shudder thinking what my life would have been like had I successfully thrown away this man I adore. We’ve been married 41 years.

        Three Things You Will Never Change About Your Marriage and Ten Things You Can are lessons I learned from a long marriage. I wish someone had told me when our marriage began. Life would have been more fun and peaceful.

        More information available on my website, or the We All Married Idiots facebook page.

        Blessings on your ministry,
        Elaine W. Miller

  4. But what about the people who have great marriages who don’t know Jesus? How do we say Jesus is the answer, when other marriages succeed? What about the people who came from Christian homes -no abuse, no alcohol, etc. but still end up in a broken relationship? I have both kinds of friends/family. Our Jewish friends have been married 33 years. They are not the kind who go to Temple every week by any means. The husband came from a very dysfunctional family while the wife came from a stable family.
    My grandparents have been married over 60 years and as far as I know, other than for a wedding or funeral have never even been to church, much less read a Bible or professed Jesus. Three out of their 6 children (2 spouses deceased/1 divorced) are married to the same person over 30 years. ( The ones with deceased spouses were married over 25 years each)Only one of those Children professes to be a Christian.
    Then I have my Christian friends. We were all in Young marrieds together, raised our kids together, vacationed together, prayed over meals together, Holidays together and then after 25 years, they divorced. He came from a solid Christian family. Has a twin brother very happily married; an older brother still happily married. She came from a broken home, but her mother remarried a wonderful Christian man whom my friend adored. She did have an estranged relationship with her biological father, but nothing extreme or terrible.
    Our other Christian couple who were also in our Bible class same description as above…divorced after 20 years…
    Or my in-laws. Married over 20 years then divorced. He was a full-time music minister when my husband was growing up. Had multiple affairs and was even put in the hospital by a jealous husband. He has now been married to the last person he had an affair with whom he married 3 days after the divorce was final for 33 years. He was/is one screwed up individual in a lot of ways, yet he’s been married over 30 years the second time. And all four of the children (my husband and his 2 brothers and 1 sister) have all been married between 15-32 years. We are all professing Christians, even though my husband and his siblings came from a crazy dysfunctional life.
    I came from a family that would be considered dysfunctional as well. My dad drank a lot (owned a liquor store). My mom was raised in a Christian home, but rarely went to church until I was in Jr. High when she rededicated her life. My dad never did and still hasn’t. My mom died 27 years ago. My dad remarried 3 months after her death and is still married. My two sisters and me have all been married over 25 years. We are all Christians as well as our husbands.
    It still takes a decision to be committed to your marriage whether Jesus is invovled or not. I love the Lord. Do not mistake my words for not loving the Lord. Divorce breaks my heart probably more than death. I’ve said many times, I wish my friends had told me that one of them had died rather than they were getting a divorce. I could have understood and at least be joyful that they were with Jesus. But Divorce is like an ongoing death. It just lingers and stinks, and decays everything around it. It’s horrible. But if there’s not a commitment to each other it will not work.

    • Lisa- Although I work in divorce recovery ministry, I too hate divorce. But I love divorced people. You are right. It does take a commitment to stay married whether you are a Christian or not. However, it takes 2 people to get married and only 1 to get a divorce. You can not control the choices of another person. You can love them through the poor choices, and true love often means allowing them to suffer a consequence, but you can’t change them.
      My whole point in this article is to explain that if the CHURCH continues to focus only on the symptoms, “money, communication, intimacy, etc.” then the marriage is more likely to fail. We must dig deeper. That’s where the enemy resides, in the darkness. And he is having a party with marriages today. It’s more prevelant in the church because non-Christians tend to co-habitate more often, rather than marry. Blessings to you, dear sister.

  5. It is the saddest testimony when Christian marriages end while unbelieving marriages thrive. Certainly Christians are not exempt from the 50% divorce rate. Which is one of the reasons I wrote the book, “We All Married Idiots: Three Things You Will Never Change About Your Marriage and Ten Things You Can.” It will be released next month. For more information please see my website, or the We All Married Idiots facebook page.

  6. I just wanted to add a post to say that SOME churches are doing something about this. Through my book, Broken Heart on Hold, and a marriage ministry called Marriage 911 that my husband and I lead in our church, we see many, many marriages turn around. Right now we are leading this 13 week class in the Orlando area and have over a hundred people coming. The neat thing about it is that both husband and wife do not have to come, but regardless of whether one or both come, we see marriages turning around. Just last night, three women who are separated brought their husbands to the class for the very first time.

    As for my book, I’ve had around 500 people write me telling me how much it has helped. So there IS help out there, and I pray churches will take more and more advantage of it, but it’s slow coming.

    Praying that Jill will be one of those who experience one of God’s miracles.

    Linda Rooks
    Broken Heart on Hold

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