Jim Daly: A "Focus" listener recently wrote to us and said, "My wife told me at dinner last night that she doesn't know why we're still married and that she never really loved me. I'm devastated." Dr. Clarke, what would you say to that man?
Dr. David Clarke: I'd say, you gotta get up; get past denial and get on a road of aggressive tough love as soon as you can.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, unfortunately, that's an exchange that happens all too often in our culture and we're gonna be hearing more from Dr. David Clarke about this pretty sensitive topic on today's "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, we hear from hundreds, literally hundreds of thousands of people each year, via letters, phone calls, e-mails and they share with us how they're struggling in their marriages and at the top of that list are issues of conflict, infidelity, separation or divorce. And that's why we're here, to be that help that you need in the moment that you need it.
It's why I'm so grateful that we have wonderful guests that come on to talk about how to strengthen your marriage, not just how to survive, but how to thrive in marriage and how to do the same in your parenting and in your family life, because that means so much to us, as we honor God in how we live. And in fact, we recently joined efforts with the National Institute of Marriage [NIM], which is a four-day "intensive for your marriage, typically those marriages that are on the brink of divorce. They already have their mind-set that they're moving in that direction, yet there is a new beginning that can be had there with men and women.
And if you're struggling in that regard, contact us here at Focus on the Family and we would love to give you more information about that. In fact, you may have neighbors or family members who are in that spot. It's not unusual in this culture to know somebody who's struggling in their marriage.
John: Yeah, we can certainly give you some connection points there. Also we have a staff of caring Christian counselors. Maybe you're not at a crisis point, but you need some help in your everyday marriage. We've got a great team here and they're ready to help. The starting point's gonna be www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or just call us at 800-A-FAMILY.
And joining us today is Dr. Clarke. He's a marriage and family therapist and has written a number of books. The one we'll talk about today is called What to Do When Your Spouse Says I Don't Love You Anymore. David is a licensed psychologist and has been in private practice in Tampa, Florida for almost 30 years and he's been married to his wife, Sandy for, I think, 32 years now.
Jim: Dr. Clarke, it's great to have you back at "Focus on the Family."
David: Well, it's so great to be here.
Jim: And you always refer to your wife—I think it's funny—[as] "the blonde." So, Sandy is "the blonde."
David: She is always "the blonde (Laughter). I wanted a California blonde and I got one. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, good for you. Like that letter I read just a moment ago, that husband or that wife—whoever is sitting in that seat and the other spouse is saying, "I don't think we should be married; I don't think I ever loved you"—I mean, what goes through that person's mind and heart when they hear something like that?
David: It is just like an atom bomb exploding and it comes out of nowhere. You're absolutely unprepared. This person that was supposed to and said in front of a church and family and friends they would never say that, never leave you, is now saying that.
I'd be okay with them saying that if right away they would say, "And this is a real problem and I've got some issues and we need to work on this and let's see a counselor tomorrow." But they don't say that; they're done, absolutely done.
Jim: What could've happened in that relationship months or years before that could help prevent that? I mean, what could they have done to not get to the last knot in the rope and let go?
David: I think it comes down to truth. Let's say it's the lady that said that. In this case, it's the lady. If she had when she had her first resentment and the first thing that he did that she didn't like and something else happened and something happened. There's a stage that she goes through. If she didn't tell the truth at that time, she is going to inevitably end up with no love for this man and he is clueless. He had no idea it was coming. Tell him the truth. "Honey, this happened. I didn't like it. Let's change it. This is upsetting me. Something else is happening." She didn't say those things and so, it all builds up and she's through.
Jim: Talk again about that spouse though that is on his way or her way out the door. Is there the potential to reason with that person or is that an irrational act?
David: It is irrational, especially if they're Christians and they've got the whole back story set up and like this lady said, "They want to rewrite your whole history. "I never loved you? I felt pressured to marry you." Well, baloney, show me the wedding picture with the shotgun to your head. It didn't happen. It's a lie, but they've convinced themselves. If I never should've married you, now it's okay and even okay with God, I think to leave you when that's not true.
Jim: Why does a person, a human being, why do they concoct that false reality? Is it to soothe their emotions and to give them a way out?
David: Oh, yeah, deep down, this lady knows she's wrong. I think she has no doubt of that, but it's way deep down. She has to somehow make this right. We always want to make our sin right and blame somebody else. She's blaming her husband. She may be blaming God and be blaming a kid and other pressures. I don't know, but she's trying to make herself feel better, right.
Jim: You apply Scripture, which there's, you know, ample Scripture ammunition here, Matthew 18 and I think, Dr. Clarke, you're right, but I don't know that many of us would think of that Scripture as a marriage Scripture.
David: Yeah and I'm convinced it is. It covers a lot of sins, in fact, every sin, but it certainly is a marital sin. And when you hear those words, "I don't love you anymore," unless it's followed by, "And let's fix this," that's a sinful statement. You don't get to say that and it not be sin. So, you have to respond as if they're sinning and confront the sin.
Jim: Now that's Matthew 18, to you know, confront that sin and if the person doesn't hear you, bring someone else. Is that what you should do?
David: Right away.
Jim: Right in your marriage?
David: Boom! You confront individually and it might take a week or two, because they gotta get through the denial stage and what's happening here, but you should never chase and beg and plead, 'cause that just legitimizes what they're doing. Yeah, it is your fault and you're trying hard. I'm through with you.
You've gotta actually push back and say, "No, you're sinning." Of course, "We have marriage issues," you'd say, "but those can all be fixed. We both know Jesus, don't we? And so, the pushing back's important. I'm gonna confront you. If you don't respond to that, I'm gonna take one or two witnesses—people that you know. In this case, it's a woman, you'd get godly women from your church that know her, could be even family members that you'll bring in and they will confront her.
If that doesn't work, you take it to the church leaders and you ask them to intervene and godly pastors and their staff hopefully will do that. And my sense of that Scripture is, it should happen rapidly. Marriage is so sacred and Satan is pushing his agenda like a freight train. When you hear those words, they already have their plan in place.
Jim: Well, in fact, when you hear—let's put it now on the man's side—when you hear a man who says, "You know what, I don't love you anymore. I don't know if I ever loved you," you say in your book that it's most likely he already has had or is in the middle of an affair. Is that typical with your experience?
David: Oh, yeah, 85 percent, nothing less than that. He's got someone else. He's actually in the relationship. It's on the emotional level; it may have gone sexual or he's singled someone out. He's playing with someone or he's in an another area of sin. It's always sin, but very often it's somebody else.
Jim: Let me ask you this basic question. What pushes us there? Why are we, as Christians, we would we open that door? What is happening in us that makes us want to go through that evil door that is going to destroy your life and the life of your children and your spouse?
David: It all goes all the back to the Garden. Satan offers us what looks like the answer to all of life's questions on your term[s] and you don't need God to get this kind of happiness and pleasure. So, initially we drift from God. Every case I've ever heard, I will say, "Well, what was your spiritual life like back when you were making these decisions?" Every time, "Well, it wasn't very good." Lack of quiet time, lack of church attendance.
Jim: So, a moment of weakness.
David: Right and that comes because if I'm close with God and listening to Him, I'm still gonna be tempted, but I'm gonna be able to resist. Plus, I don't have a relationship of truth and honesty with my spouse. That's the second problem. So, when I start to get temped, I need to tell Sandy. That's the person I must tell. If I don't tell her, then it becomes a secret and I continue to drift from her, thinking foolishly, "I can handle this. I think I'll take care of this on my own." No, I can't. Eventually and Satan knows he's got me at that point, that's where you lose in the first couple of steps of sin, not at the end.
John: Well, we have a lot of good helps for you if you're struggling in any way, shape or form in your marriage, when you stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Our guest today is Dr. David Clarke. Your host is Jim Daly; I'm John Fuller and David, it seems that there are a lot of gaps here. I mean, David, it seems that there would be tell-tale signs. You said earlier that the person that says, "I don't love you," usually has thought that out really well. The person hearing it oftentimes is kinda caught flat-footed, unaware. Aren't there signs that somethin's goin' on deep down inside? Doesn't the spouse know somethin's not right?
David: Well, you can trust your intuition. Women especially have an intuition and after they've heard the bombshell, they'll often say, "You know what? I did think something was wrong, but I didn't want to believe it." I say, "Baby, go with your gut. Now we know what's happened now." So, women need to listen to your intuition; they've got it and God will find a way to let you know, something's not right here.
If your husband is not as into you as he was before, don't explain that away with work and stress. Just acknowledge it as a fact. That's a warning sign. And the classic symptom of an affair would be, working out more, different clothes, wanting to look better, unexplained absences. But the bottom line is, there's something wrong in the relationship. Very few people can maintain a loving, intimate bond with God and their spouse and have an affair. Can't be done, so they're not doing it.
But you don't want to go to that horrible place and so, you don't. You just assume, well, it's stress or something else or this is a phase of our marriage. Don't do that. If you're seeing those signs, you have nothing to lose to say, "I think something is wrong." 'Cause at that point, before disaster happens, you might just be able to get the truth and get it on the table.
Jim: Move to the next step in this. Let's say the, you know, the confrontation has occurred. It's happened and the emotional bang has happened and now you're trying to the next day, pick up the pieces. What are the right things to do for a spouse to lay the groundwork for this to be honoring to God and to hopefully be saved? What should she or he be doing with that spouse that has been, you know, the infidelity has existed? What does day two look like?
David: So, we start right away. We want to see repentance. We want to see the person that's been sinning broken and repentant and "I'm so sorry" and owning all the sin. If they don't do that, you don't have anything; then you're gonna have to go into tough love.
But if you do have that, the first trip I would say would be to your pastor. Let's sit down with our pastor. We know him. We love him and we speak truth. He prays with us; there are some spiritual growth things a pastor can do. Let's say it's the man that's been involved [in] the affair. He will be involved in a group setting and have accountability.
Then you're gonna make the final phone call. You might see a Christian psychologist quickly, too, like myself to guide you through the process. But there's a final phone call; you're gonna have your husband call that other woman with the wife listening and end that relationship. "My wife is listening. It was awful. I never loved you. It's sinful. I'm embarrassed. Basically I'm rejecting you. Never contact me again." (Sound of Krr) Hang up. That closure is important.
You want to make that person feel bad and go away. The warm fuzzy last meeting never works. That's a continuation of the affair. What also doesn't work is, "Honey, I've had the affair, but I called her. You didn't hear it, but I had a last meeting and I took care of it." That … no, we don't know what you said. There's no trust here. I want to know exactly what you said.
Now you're gonna tell me the whole truth about what you did. This is where it gets dicey, but it's very important. Details are important to heal, so you've had the affair; you're gonna tell me now everything about it—where you met, every step along the way, every frame. The only exception is the gory sexual details, if sex happened. I need to know what kind of sex and where it happened and how often. I don't want the blow-by-blow in the bedroom.
And the things that were talked about and what your crazy mind was thinking.You're gonna allow me to ask questions. There's gonna be a lot of intense conversation. We hit it head on directly. Any attempt to skip that will ruin the marriage. You'll never trust again and even if you limp along as a married couple, it won't be very good.
Jim: Let me ask this question. The spouse that's been wounded, she has a biblical reason to end the marriage. In your experience as a counselor, what is the right thing to do? What is the good thing to do? And it may come down to case by case, but what have you seen in the thousands of couples that you've counseled, what is good?
David: Well, I think what is good and I will always recommend it; I never recommend divorce, even if there's a biblical reason. She does have that in this situation, but God wants the greater glory and He wants to restore this couple. So, if the man is truly repentant and we'll go through a series of very tough steps over the next five, six months, literally, it can be the best marriage anybody ever had.
Jim: You have seen that.
David: I have seen it hundreds of times, no ill effects, no lingering cloud, no, "I can't trust him really much anymore." That's Satan's lie. God's a God of total restoration. If you do it His way, repentant, brand-new marriage, they're sittin' there. They don't believe me, 'cause they can't believe that could happen. Our marriage is gone.
I say, "Yes, your marriage is gone. Your first marriage is over, no doubt. Bury it; it's done. We're gonna start fresh now and we're gonna build a new one with God's help." So, I never recommend a divorce. I've had women that have made that choice and you have to respect it, but I think if the man is really repentant, there's a greater story and it could be totally restored.
Jim: Let me pull on this a bit, because you're saying that, that woman, as we're describing this example—and again, the shoe can be on either foot and we get that, but bear with us in that regard—but you're saying that woman can move through that violation of trust and actually rebuild that trust and perhaps even have greater trust because it's all known now. She may know her husband even better than she ever has.
Jim: Is that fair?
David: It is. Through this horrible process of truth being told on a more intimate level, disgraceful, shameful things, lays two souls just bare, two hearts bare and so, we not only heal from what happened, but we are changed forever. Now we can talk about anything. What could be worst that your affair? Nothing in terms of personal. So, now we have this brand-new marriage and it's gonna be better than what you had before, a lot better.
John: Okay, so there is somebody that truly is repentant, but there have to be people that you've worked with where you just don't know. I mean, how can you tell if that guilty party really is repentant?
David: Well, when Dave Clarke assesses them, you're gonna know. I'm gonna put that guy through the wringer literally. Now every step I recommend I think is biblically based; I'm convinced of it and is good for healing, but it's also a test. Everything I ask for is a test and attitude is everything and you can just tell.
I actually have them not only verbally describe everything that happened over and over and take the wife's comments and if she wants to talk about the affair, you will, okay, if it's 2 in the morning. Every question's a good question. You let her vent and you're sorry and you're working with her.
I actually have the sinning spouse write out what I call "the document." He will write out the story of his affair like a novel. It's the worst thing you could ever ask someone to do. I want all the truth. You're gonna read it here in my office next week. I mean, a guy that will do that without flinching and go, "I will do it," is a man that's changing. That's a heart change. Wow! He'll take the test. He'll go to the pastor. He'll go to the sexual addiction group, if it's a sexual addition problem.
Also I'll ask him, now we're talking about this relationship. I now over the course of your marriage, I'm gonna ask you to tell your wife everything you've ever done in the sexual sin area. Oh, my goodness! There is pornography has probably been and that's Satan's, one of his uses of pornography. He doesn't want it to end there. It's awful enough. He wants you to have an actual woman. He's not gonna be satisfied until he does. So, we're gonna have the document also include pornography, any flirting, any strip clubs, I mean, anything that would be inappropriate. We're gonna dump everything out now, 'cause we don't want to find out later that we missed something.
John: Well, you set a high, high bar for performance for that guilty person.
David: Boy, I do.
John: And it's intended to bring out healing and also to make sure that they truly are repentant?
David: Right. These guys, when they hear me go over this and they read the book, the ones that flush out, flush out right (Sound of Snap) away. They're angry at me. How dare you ask me to do these things? I'll say, "How dare you do what you did?" and they'll get angry. They'll character assassinate me and they'll find another counselor that will do it the wimpy way. Let's skip the affair and even say and there are pastors that still do this and Christian counselors that will blame the wife for her husband's affair. She has zero percent culpability, zero, dead zero. When you sin; you sin.
Now the second thing is we get to the marriage. Sure there were marriage problems. That's no excuse for sin. God would never hold for that. When you sin, you sin alone and you sin before God and you have to answer to Him. So, when we get to the second phase, after you've helped your wife heal from what you've done, now we'll fix the marriage and that's where your wife, of course, has responsibility. But I draw an absolute, you know, cut line between what you did with this other woman and your wife.
Jim: And I want to ask the obvious question when you have that spouse that hears you and doesn't respond, isn't into healing the marriage, what should the offended spouse do?
David: You go into hyper drive. You're angry in a righteous way and you're gonna gather your support team and you're gonna really push back. Now we have a serious sinner on or hand, even more than what he did. And what he's saying is, "I'm gonna continue with my affair; I've not stopped it." They always say, "I've stopped that." They have not stopped it. There's still contact going on, so you're gonna really go into hyper drive, which means you're gonna have one or two witnesses confront him.
And in the meantime, you're gonna say, "You know what, buddy. I'm done with you." You turn the tables. "You say you're done with me; uh-uh, no, I'm done with you and I'm through with you until and unless you follow a series of steps to get me back," so you turn the tables totally. It takes strength and power to do that and you need some support in order to have the guts to do it, but shove him back. I've seen that work many times. As much as 80 or 90 percent of cases, when you really get tough, they can turn around if you're tough enough.
So, one or two witnesses, I'm going to the church and then if he doesn't respond to that, then we get the end stage of Matthew 18, the passage in 17, treat him as a pagan or a tax collector, which means you shun him for a full month. Act like he doesn't exist. You're through with them and you bring that. You don't sit with them in church. You're not in the same bed. The kids know what's going on. They may not know what's happening, but they're gonna … they know that dad's made a serious mistake and you're in shunning mode and then you'll seek to physically separate if you have a guy that's not breaking.
Jim: David, let me ask you this. You know, in the Christian community, we're taught about forgiveness. We're taught about not letting the sun go down on your anger. And you know, these are serious moments potentially in someone's life that need serious responses and that's what you're saying. But it feels like everything that you've conditioned your life to be like under the lordship of Christ, to turn the other cheek, to be kind toward those who are harming you, you're saying there is a time for righteous anger. Help me better understand that so I'm not confused as that wife. It's okay to be mad, because my whole Christian life I've been told it's not okay to be mad.
David: I'd refer the woman and I'll often read this in my office, Malachi 2:16, where God says, "I hate the man who betrays his wife." That's pretty strong. That's righteous anger from God Himself. Other verses, Ephesians, of course, 4:26, "Be angry and yet, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger." Now that doesn't apply here, because you're gonna be angry for two or three months. That's a healthy, normal reaction. That's how God made us.
Now if your husband breaks and repents, that will temper your anger, because he's changing. He loves you. You're still gonna have to go through the phase of rage and anger, but the other way, I've never seen that work and it's not biblical in this sense. I'm not confronting the sinner. You confront the sinner and you can do that in a loving anger when he's harmed you so terribly. Other than killing you or killing one of your kids, burn you alive in your car, this is the worst thing he could've done to you. So, you're responding in that way, making it a big crisis, 'cause it is a big crisis.
David: And that's what's actually gonna change his heart, rather than the traditional Christian approach, which is still the most popular. "Well, here's the woman that's been the victim. "I am a little overweight and I haven't been a good wife and it must be partly my fault and if I just loved him more and really change as a wife, he'll drop this miserable person and he'll love me." That never, ever works in 30 years, never seen it work. It never will, because that's not what is required.
Jim: Why does a woman tell herself those things?
David: Because it's denial. She doesn't want to face the horrible truth. It's a way to kind of ease out. If I'm in some way responsible for this, then I can fix this. If with my own behavior and at the same time I can avoid really facing the horrible thing he's done, I want to minimize that, just human nature trying to protect yourself. And a couple of weeks of that is normal in this process. My job as a therapist and in writing this book is to get people out of that phase as quick as I can.
Reality is, I've met with your husband. He's done with you. He is absolutely done. Don't think that "I don't love you" means, "I'm not sure; let's work on the marriage." I'll have some of these jokers come in. They're totally in sin. They have no intention of changing and dropping their sleaze or paramour, whatever they want to call the other person. They just want to kinda make it all right and "I came to therapy and I tried."
I take them out of my office first day. I say, "Don't come back until you have done the things I've asked you to do." And in that way I'm modeling for the wife, here's how you handle it. She can't do that yet, but I can do it.
Jim: I gotta ask you though and your intensity sparks this question. I mean, I love it, the forthrightness of it and the truth of it. What has been goin' on in the offender that has led them down this horrible path? What is in their heart that they've bought the lie?
David: Good question. I try to temper it with, you know what? You're driving your car off a cliff. I'm being very hard on you, 'cause I'm the only guy on the road now along with your wife, maybe a close friend or two, but is in the road saying, "Don't drive your car over a cliff. I'm actually loving you. It's tough love, but I'm loving you.
And if you will stop the sin, God requires you to stop the sin, not to figure it out and stop it; stop it. Once you've stopped it, out of faith in God alone, then we'll figure out how this happened. And part of the document and part of the process is figuring out how Satan got you, 'cause if we don't figure that out, he'll get you the same way again. He's good at what he does and it probably goes back to your childhood and rejection by your previous spouse and issues in your marriage. Okay, let's look at all that stuff, but you own the sin, but a part of the process is just that, Jim. We find out what went wrong.
David: It's part of the healing.
Jim: We have really talked about some, you know, gut-wrenching things today, John.
John: Yeah, very intense, yeah.
Jim: We've talked about how we fall out of love, how we must approach the sin of our spouse by using the model found in the Bible in Matthew 18. And I think, Dr. Clarke, you're right. So often, even in therapy, we nuance it too much. We use worldly approaches to try to get to an end result. We need to still talk about more though, how we get on that road to recovery, how we deal directly with those sin issues and what to do if your spouse isn't willing to do that work after several months, what's that next step? Can you stay with us and let's continue the tough talk.
David: Thanks, I'd like to.
John: Well, we look forward to having more from Dr. David Clarke on our next program and Jim, he's really given us some hard-hitting advice about approaching sin and brokenness in our marriages. For many listeners though, this has probably been a good first step, but they're gonna feel like they need some help in doin' that.
Jim: Well, it's true, John. I mean, if you're in the midst of experiencing the heartbreak of marriage that's falling apart, we are here to talk with you. That's why we're here. Generous donors support the ministry in a way that we can provide counseling. We can provide those tools and those resources to help you improve your relationships around you, with your spouse, with your children.
So, please call us. You know, 200 to 250 people each and every day are calling us here at Focus for that kind of help. Don't feel that your situation is too bad. God is there for you and we want to be there for you.
As we talked about at the top of the program, the National Institute of Marriage, which is a Focus ministry effort, they are there for you. If you're in a situation where your marriages may be even on the last knot of the rope, you've thought about divorce. You've signed the papers perhaps. The National Institute of Marriage is our best effort to have you come to an intensive counseling opportunity. They've got a[n] 84.7 percent success rate. That's two years post testing. And I think if your marriage is struggling, I hope that you would be able to invest in saving it. We need Christian couples who are willing to go the hard extra mile to learn how to communicate better, what Dr. Clarke was talking about. What are the tools that you need to go the distance, not just for yourself, but for the witness of the Lord in your community.
John: Uh-hm, yeah, and in fact, if you want to talk to one of our counselors or learn more about the National Institute of Marriage, our number is 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: And you know, let me add, maybe you'rein a good place and that's awesome. That is wonderful that you're thriving in your relationship, in your marriage. But could you help us help others? I know so often, we're in the Christian community, we're doing that to help feed a child and those things and those are all worthy things to do. But I'm tellin' you what. In the culture right now, keeping the marriage together, which I'm so grateful [for.] last year 140,000 marriages have been saved through Focus on the Family. that is a work that I hope you see as worthy for consideration. Support that effort today. Make a donation to Focus on the Family. If we want to restore this culture, we've got to do well first and foremost and then be a light and a beacon to those around us. So, support marriage today. And in fact, we have friends that are so committed to this that they're willing to double the gift. So, if you give a gift of $20, it'll be 40 and if it's 50, it'll be 100. That's how much they believe in the cause of marriage. Step up and help support marriage today by supporting Focus on the Family.
John: And you can do that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459. And in addition to the benefit of your donation effectively being doubled when you contribute today, we'll also send you as a thank you, a copy of Dr. Clarke's book, What to Do When Your Spouse Says I Don't Love You Anymore. It's a resource that you can pass along to somebody in need and we'll send that to you when you contribute today.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time for more from Dr. David Clarke, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Dr. David ClarkeView Bio
Dr. David Clarke is a licensed psychologist with a full-time practice in Florida, where he does extensive counseling with individuals and families. He earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Portland, Ore. Dr. Clarke has authored nearly a dozen books including Cinderella Meets the Cave Man, The Six Steps to Emotional Freedom and A Marriage After God's Own Heart. He and his wife, Sandy, have four children. Learn more about Dr. Clarke by visiting his website, davideclarkephd.com.