Monday, October 26, 2009

Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage by Michael Misja, PhD and Chuck Misja, PhD

image Most of the marriage books that I have read address both partners, assuming that both husband and wife are willing to read the book and make behavioral changes to improve their marriage. That is ideal, but the reality is that it is often only one person who is willing to expend the effort. I have read (and loved) a few books that are written to the individual rather than the couple. I like to read and think about what I can do, because, truthfully, the only person I can change is myself. Focusing on what one’s partner is doing wrong helps no one.

Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage takes a somewhat different approach from any other book I have read. The authors acknowledge that some marriages are not “fixable.” They may never be entirely happy. But….Misja and Misja don’t advocate giving up and divorcing as our secular culture so readily encourages.  They say,

“Unless there is a pattern of abuse or unchanging immorality, the answer is, ‘No, it’s not better to give up on your marriage.’ Instead, never quit, never give up, don’t stop praying and searching for a way to turn your marriage around. Miracles happen, people change, and, besides, you don’t know what God has planned for your marriage. In addition, you can’t give up on your marriage without betraying your heart.”

The book discusses many types of difficult marriages while teaching the reader to acknowledge and own the feelings of pain and loss, while still holding on to hope in God and actually thriving despite the current situation. I found the book hopeful, yet realistic, and above all, I appreciated the author’s dedication to faithfulness in marriage rather than encouraging the common philosophy that “the purpose of marriage is to make ME happy, and if I’m not happy, then I am free to leave.”

I received this book free for review purposes from the Navpress Blogger Review Program.


  1. I thumbed through the book in a bookshop and I don't entirely agree with the premise of the book. It is possible to be damaged in a marriage and feel the desire to leave not because one is unhappy but because one is unsafe. The authors refer to physical abuse being in a category of its own but most abused women would say that it is the psychological and verbal abuse that is the most damaging, and physical abuse the least.

    Most of the women that I know who have left their husbands have done it because they have been abused. They may not have recognized it at the time because they were confused and could not articulate what was happening.

    I myself withstood over 20 years of abusive behavior, and since abuse follows a cycle, there were moments of reprieve and even kindness that was mistaken for repentance and love. I did basically everything that this book talked about, that is, not requiring or demanding change, finding my fulfilment in Christ and setting limits to the type of behavior that I would tolerate. This only made my controlling spouse madder and the situation more dangerous for the entire family. It's not that he was overtly physically abusive as he changed that when he discovered that it was unacceptable in the law, it's that his pscyhological abuse, covert intimidation and coercion was crazy-making.

    Even when my husband's behavior toward my children was abusive, the pastors and Christian counselors still did not encourage separation. Finally, it got to a point that everybody was on edge and about to explode and I feared that someone's life would be endangered. The counselors that we saw did not approve of separation, saying that it would lead to divorce. While my husband was pleased with this as abusive men are very attached to their wives, I could not tolerate the damage anymore. I was on the verge of losing my children as well, who had lost hope of anyone understanding the distress they were under.

    Now that we are separated, we can finally live in a toxic-free environment and begin to heal. Most Christian friends feel sorry for him and don't understand what it was like to be drowning at home. Abuse is not about conflict. It is not a mutual issue that can be resolved. It is in the category of the unfixable.

    NOW I can really pray for him. NOW I can never give up on God's destiny for him. While I was still engaged and in the relationship, all I did was enable him to do wickedness by allowing him to treat me and the kids badly.

    To those who say that we should have set better boundaries, it is impossible to set boundaries without suffering damage the first time he does something unacceptable. As long as we were around to be his "punching bag", we were damaged. This is what psychologists refer to as "inevitable harm" - as long as you are IN the relationship, you suffer, regardless of whether you do right or wrong, whether you have the right attitude/expectations or not. The only way to thrive is to extricate oneself from the grasp or control of the other, and that is not only possible by pulling away - literally.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this reply. This is SO much like my situation! Except I do have a counselor that is ok with my leaving. In order to strengthen myself and heal, focus on connecting to God, which is near impossible while you're living in it- dealing with the present anger attacks and chaos.

    Ideally, if my identity in Christ is healthy enough, I'd be strong enough to set and act on boundaries, not be so damaged by his verbal attacks. Christians then think our improved loving behavior toward him, with less reactive upsets (I thought I was standing up for myself?) will help him improve. (including?- say nothing to disagree with him, be careful not to interrupt... to do that means unhealthy hyper-vigilence for me.) It's true it doesn't escalate when we walk away. Still, I agree, we're just there getting damaged every day. Does God really want that? Damage is damage, abuse is abuse, our spirits killed is a spirit killed.

    But others don't get the cycles: that he can improve even for days, and then due to nobody else except his own emotions/ mood swing, he gets triggered to that scary anger. Maybe irritable and mean for days, sometimes with bits of nice mood in between, until a big explosion or multiple bad ones. Then the quiet recovery period, then the tension builds again, until you notice the irrational mean outbursts- big or small. That's the anger cycle.

    I love what you wrote in your last paragraph, addressing this boundary suggestion. " long as you are IN the relationship, you suffer, regardless of whether you do right or wrong, whether you have the right attitude/ expectations or not." YES! EXACTLY!

    That is why separation is good... but how long do you wait for him to change? to return and then wait? ultimatum? Go to church and get leadership/guy to admonish him? My counselor said that won't work in my situation. He opens up, but only so far, then there's the Wall. What if there's Asperger's involved, a medical condition?

    You wrote "crazy making," and I read a book that explain that accurate term. I recall it including provoking a conflict, twisting truth, blaming us, being so verbally coercive to make us think WE are the problem and the cause of all his problems! So what is rightly HIS to own, we suddenly believe is OUR responsibility! We believe the lies. Crazy-making.

    You wrote: "most abused women would say that it is the psychological and verbal abuse that is the most damaging, and physical abuse the least." This is TRUE. I have read this and heard it first person in abuse groups, and it's true for myself.

    -Anonymous #2


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