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Marriage: If It’s Broke, Why Fix It?

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Clint and Penny Bragg know a thing or two about being in a broken marriage.  Following a blissful courtship that eventually led to the altar, Clint and Penny found themselves divorced after just three years of marriage. 

How could this have happened?  Clint and Penny were both Christians, well educated, and highly involved in church activities.  For better or for worse, Clint and Penny became just another failed marriage, one of the 50 percent that failed.

Looking back, what happened was simple.  Seemingly small cracks began to form in their marital foundation, widening little by little until they found themselves caught up in a whirlwind of lies, communication breakdowns, and Penny having an emotional affair with someone else.

Years passed as each of them tried to move on.  They lost touch. But then something happened.  Miraculously, 11 years later and living 3,000 miles apart, Clint and Penny somehow re-connected and found common ground.  Eventually they reconciled and re-married.   Since that day, they have learned first hand that couples that reconcile must work through a host of unresolved arguments from years past, sometimes bitter betrayal, and lasting unforgiveness.  But they also found that with perseverance it can work out.

In their new book, Marriage on the Mend: Healing Your Relationship after Crisis, Separation, or Divorce, Clint and Penny identify obstacles that often impede the healing process and offer practical ways to get past hurt and deeply buried conflicts. 

I recently sat down with Clint and Penny to discuss the most common relationship roadblocks, suggestions for restorative healing, and why reconciliation is a process not a prescription.

I understand that the two of you call yourselves “marriage missionaries”.  Most of the time when we think of the term ‘missionaries’ we equate it to going out into the world and spreading the Gospel message.  What can you tell me about being a “marriage missionary”?

Penny Bragg:  Well, we hadn’t heard of it either.  We were actually out on the road sharing our message of restoration when a Lutheran professor from Concordia University introduced us as marriage missionaries.  We looked at each other and asked, “Is that what we are?”  It stuck.  That term truly embodied what we are doing.  We are on the road 40 days at a time ministering to marriages in every place … from a coffee shop to a basement to people’s homes to churches and beyond.  That was it.  When he said that it was like God said that is what you will be.

In your marriage ministry, what is the most common theme that you see in troubled couples when they come to meet with you?

Clint:  The number one issue is probably that both people in the marriage have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior but they are not practicing their faith.  They are not walking the walk.  Also, the man is not the spiritual leader of their household.  Ninety percent of the time they are not the spiritual leader is because they didn’t have a role model when they were growing up to show them what a spiritual leader looks like.  So, we teach simple things.  The importance of having a quiet time, reading the Bible and talking to God.  We encourage them to enter into fellowship with other believers.  We teach husbands how to pray with his wife in the morning before they leave the house. These are simple things to do but it is essential.

Penny: Some of these basic tools that are in our book are going to help couples who are struggling to work through forgiveness, betrayal, addiction, all of that will come out of this intimacy with Christ. The hard part is to actually get people to pick up the tools and use them.

There is a wealth of marriage reconciliation books in the marketplace.  What sets Marriage on the Mend apart from the others that are battling to get our attention?

Penny: When we were doing research for our book we discovered that most of these books were written by therapists or psychologists.  We are writing from the “I don’t like you today” perspective and figuring out how people can make it through together, not apart.  I think the fact that we have been through the fire as a couple and can say, “Look, if God can do this for us He can do it for you.”  This makes the book real tangible.

You write in Marriage on the Mend that reconciliation is a process.  It is not a prescription.  What do you mean by that?

Penny: If reconciliation was a prescription that’s a pill I would have taken a long time ago.  Three steps to be through all this?  Praise God! Sign me up!  But it isn’t.  It’s just so much about the process.  Couples will ask us, “So, the first thing I should do is write a letter.  Then, the second step is to wait for his response.”  That is being prescriptive.  Reconciliation is not a 1-2-3 procedure.  Reconciliation is all about your intimacy level with Christ.  It is about the process.  It is so much more than it is about marriage.  It is supposed to be about our individual wholeness in Christ and then taking that wholeness and learning how to be married together. Even in the day to day, living this out 13 years later in our marriage it is all about process.  We want people to know that we are always restoring our marriage.  We’re not done now.  We’re restoring our marriage all the way through until we get to Heaven.

Many couples that are going through difficulties have trouble talking about their differences with each other.  Many times a person will deny there is a problem at all.  Why do you think so many couples have such a hard time talking about their issues with each other?

Clint: Because the world tells you that you need to be the king of the mountain.  You need to be first.  Second is no good.  Third is no good.  You are not any good unless you are on top of the pile and you need to make sure that everybody knows it.  Throughout his ministry here on earth and continues through His Word, Christ teaches that if you really want to be great you must be the servant.  If you want to be honored you need to be humble. Face to face, people don’t know there is a compromise. You have to learn to talk with each other, compromise to the point where you find a happy medium for both of you.  Most couples are not willing to give in.  They think that if they give in it is a sign of weakness.  That is not right.

With all the busyness that can invade a couple’s relationship as result of children in the mix and/or demanding jobs swirling around them, what are some fool-proof ways to keep your marriage strong and stable?

Penny:  The first is just praying in the morning together.  Commit to not leaving the house until we have prayed for each other.  And if one of us is not feeling like it, it becomes the other person’s responsibility. Whether you like the other person or not it is essential.  Sunday nights are a great time for a weekly devotional time together.  A couple can do this in 20 to 30 minutes.  Just open the Word, talk about the Word, and pray for each other.  Very simple.  We also try to do a quarterly get away.  This one is hard for most couples to incorporate but we have found if we put it on the calendar before we schedule everything else for the year we can honor those times.

Clint:  The key is to be just completely honest with each other.  In fact what happens to a lot of people is that they don’t talk about issues.  So, these little fractures build up, they get covered up, and then it finally gets to the point where there are so many that it takes just one little thing to set everything off.  Then people say, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m out of this marriage.’  Whereas, if you talk openly and honestly with one another intentionally it will ensure that you are connected to God and to each other.

What is your greatest hope for people who read your book, Marriage on the Mend?

Penny: We say it at the very end of the book that we want people to be hungrier for God than when they opened the first page.  This book is really about our hunger for God and the hole that has been in our hearts since the Fall.  It is realizing that all of that counterfeit intimacy that we have all fallen for is truly healed through the presence of Christ.  I do think that even if reconciliation doesn’t happen, as long as the person who has read this will see their thirst for God increase than we have achieved our goal.

Clint: I obviously have a heart for men who struggle in their marriages.  For those who are struggling take it one day at a time.  Don’t go off the deep end.  Don’t chase after your spouse in anger.  If you are separated don’t chase after temptations.  Turn it over to the Lord.  Don’t say, “Lord, fix her.”  Say, “Lord, take care of my spouse and help her to open her heart back up to me.”  Then, help me to change my heart. My heart’s desire is for men to stand up and become spiritual leaders.  And it won’t happen overnight.  It is a process.

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