Have you ever been in a relationship that was on life support?
That’s the question I’m throwing down today, and to help me out, I called up Justin Davis. Who is Justin Davis? Well, he’s a campus pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville (that’s Pete Wilson’s church.) He’s a marriage coach, and he blogs about rescusitating relationships at Refine Us. How did Justin get his start at helping couples in trouble? How else? By having an affair of his own, and rebuilding his marriage piece by piece, a series of events he speaks about extensively now. I was really excited to get to talk to Justin. What he shared with me could easily fill five blog posts, but I’ve got the highlights of our conversation here.
You deal a lot with healing marriages that have been damaged. Can you tell us about the genesis of your blog and ministry?
I’ve come to realize just how sovereign God is, and how long-term He thinks. Pete Wilson and I go back over ten years as friends, and when the affair came out, Pete and his wife, Brandi were the there to help us through that. But I really never thought I’d be back in ministry. I had gone overnight from being in leadership to waiting tables. We moved away, and went into a “hiding” or “healing” mode for about two years.
Eventually, I was asked by a pastor to tell about our story as part of a series on grace. We thought there may be a little bit of response, one or two people who’d want my phone number. But after the service, about seventy-five people stayed after wanting to talk to us until four in the afternoon. Over the next couple of weeks, the response was overwhelming, and there just wasn’t enough of Trisha and I to go around.
Pete suggested I start blogging, and we started sharing our story at more churches. Now a few years later, it’s all come full circle. Pete and I minister together, and I started a non-profit with a not very modest mission: to lower the divorce rate in churches.
Our culture’s marriages now end in divorce at epidemic rates. What do you think is the cause?
God created us for intimacy with our spouses, and what people have done since Adam and Eve is we’ve hid from each other and blamed each other. In marriage we’re called to be “fully known,” and resisting that call to honesty is what destroys intimacy.
I see what you mean, but most people probably think there are a few things that are too hurtful to tell their spouses.
The lie I believed for years was that if my wife really knew me and all my darkest secrets, she’d leave me. If that’s how your marriage works, it’s not based on unconditional love. When people divorce, it’s easier to say they have irreconcilable differences, rather than say those differences were caused by withholding truth.
Accountability partners are a pretty popular tool these days, especially for struggling men. Do these have a place in marriage?
Perhaps, but if marriages functioned the way they’re supposed to, we’d have no need for accountability partners, because we wouldn’t be withholding struggles, secrets, or insecurities from one another.
Especially for men, accountability partners can become a crutch so they don’t have to be honest with their wives. If you’re being dishonest with your spouse, because you think they’ll leave you, then it’s a fact that your marriage is sick. It’s just a question of your marriage dying instantly of a heart attack with your honesty, or slowly from cancer with your dishonesty.
Is there a pattern you see in marriages that are in trouble, or some red flags people can look for in their marriages?
Men and women destroy intimacy in their marriages in different ways. In general, withholding truth is primarily a guy thing, and resentment and unresolved grudges generally plague women. You generally don’t see many guys having problems with being angry with their wives for fourteen years.
So while men become dishonest with their wives, women often become slow to forgive. That pattern develops until men begin to count the cost of being honest, and when the cost becomes too high, (like having two hour arguments over something small, because of the wife’s unresolved anger), they know better than to be honest and then withdraw even more, and so wives become even more resentful.
When a couple comes to you, what’s the first step in getting their troubled marriage back on track?
Our personal stories affect our marriages to a huge degree, so we try to hear the couples’ histories. My parents divorced after my Dad’s secret pattern of infidelity for thirty years. He never told me how to tell a lie and get away with it, it was just modeled. So I brought manipulation and deceit into my marriage that I didn’t even realize. You have to get those stories in order to identify problems.
What does it take to get a marriage back on track that’s been through a huge crisis like an affair?
An affair gets the headlines and says there is a crisis. But when you go to the doctor and he finds a cancerous tumor, you’ve had that tumor for a long time, and it’s been developing without you knowing it. I don’t try to fix marriages. I try to help men and women become new people, because that’s what it’s going to take. If men and women don’t want to become people who will love unconditionally, there’s no point. You don’t need an improved version of your broken marriage. You need a new marriage. Even with infidelity, the affair is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the real problem, and success is couples identifying the real problem, so it’s not repeated. Just treating the affair is like putting a band-aid on a broken arm.
Be sure to visit Justin’s blog, but before you do, tell us about your marriage resuscitation success stories (or any story you want to share), or leave questions for Justin.