The Issue

It was the second marriage for both Rich and Pat. If their expectations for their first marriage had been high, now, they had bet the farm. They were older, more mature; the children from their first marriages were grown and off on their own. They had promised to love each other’s offspring, make them welcome in their new home, and never belittle the children’s other parent. They were aware that their divorces had forced their children into new, strange, and frightening circumstances.

It would be just the two of them, working on their lives together, going forward with their hopes and dreams. They knew something of their mistakes, were somewhat aware of their shortcomings, and had resolved that nothing would destroy what they had found together. They had moved to a new city to rebuild their lives, leaving everything behind to start anew. Knowing that they needed something “greater than themselves,” they had committed their lives to the Lord and found an ideal church for worship. There they had “family,” felt nourished, and made friends. It seemed everything was in place — at least for a while.

Both Rich and Pat were professionals. Pat was an editor for a major magazine, and Rich, a corporate executive. Their careers were on track, money was not a problem — they were secure in their future, one another, and the Lord.

However, a coup in Rich’s organization created a big bump in the road. He, along with the CEO and other top executives, were thrown out. Rich has a wide range of experience and thought that getting another position would not be a problem — even if it took awhile. He hadn’t anticipated that his age, now fifty-five, would make it difficult. He hadn’t acknowledged that the business world had become a “younger place.” In the months since his job loss, no career opportunities have come his way. Rich has tired of being “over qualified.” He is angry and scared from the inside out. Nothing in his life has any of the familiar signposts. The world has become a strange and frightening place for him.

Rich is beginning to realize that he has always staked his life on his abilities. His career, position, power, and influence defined him, gave him his identity and respectability. He has competed in the corporate marketplace and provided for his family. Now, it seems that his abilities no longer count.

While Rich has been struggling, Pat’s magazine position suddenly came to an abrupt end. Although she has been a career person, she always thought there would be a husband who would take care of her and see to her needs. After all, hadn’t her dad done just that? She didn’t expect the road to be this rocky.

With neither of them bringing in any income, they have resorted to selling off property and investments — netting far less than their original value, thus hastening more and more sell off. Now, there is nothing left.

Desperate, Rich has taken a job in a discount warehouse. The pay is a far cry from what he has known and had assumed would always be there.

Rich seems to be unable to talk with Pat about any of their circumstances or his fear and shame over this turn of events in their lives. When Pat tries to talk about what is happening to them, Rich cannot. When Pat insists, Rich becomes angry and shuts her out. Pat feels isolated, confused, and sick at heart about this turn of events in their lives. But more so, that she and Rich don’t seem to be partners any longer. She finds she distances herself from her husband and seeks her own way in activities that further separate them.

The Insights

Many of us in a modern marriage can relate to Rich and Pat’s story. Often couples seem to do well when life is cruising along, but when the difficulties crash upon them, underlying issues come to the surface. With the instability of today’s job market, men and women who thought their career path was firm, find themselves in a position similar to Rich and Pat. To ensure that the insight offered here will be helpful to many couples, we will look primarily at job loss and a change of lifestyle.

Find Your Worth in Christ

While some women face a similar situation, Rich’s predicament is very typical of men today — their security and worth is centered in their profession. However, as Christians we all need to find our value in life in Christ; work does not define the believer.

With an understanding of how Rich feels, Charles offers peer insight from his experience. Charles and his wife, Karen, faced similar circumstances when a company reshuffle caused him to lose his position as a CFO in a major insurance company at the age of fifty-nine. Charles says of that time in his life:

My greatest fear was that I could no longer depend on myself. Hard work and experience now made no difference. Success and accomplishment eluded me. I had “worshiped” at those altars all my life. It was all I knew; it was what made me worthy.

When Charles’s self worth was in question, he pulled away from Karen and isolated himself, taking his anger at the world out on her. Many times Karen found herself reminding Charles that she was not the enemy. As Charles pushed her away, she had to do things on her own. She took up hiking and camping. She got some counsel, and she grew — all the while being patient with Charles as he dealt with his fears. During this time, Charles took a job as a night manager at a gas station where he had previously been a customer. His time of transition included driving a laundry truck, selling shoes, and managing a clothing store’s shoe department.

As Karen grew, Charles realized that if he wanted to “keep up” with her, he needed to make some changes as well. Finally he turned to Christian counseling and got involved in a men’s Bible study. Charles says,

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It wasn’t long before I saw that my worth was caught up in my corporate image. It was time to lean on the Lord as never before. Now, it seemed the Lord was instructing me that obedience to His directives was my business; the outcome of my endeavors was His. He would teach me that being smart, having power, prestige, and position had kept me from Him. He showed me that He would allow hurt and pain, failure and guilt, confusion and remorse to attack me so that finally there would be no place for me to go but to Him.

A few years ago, Chuck and I faced something similar as well. Economics in the healthcare profession caused Chuck to take a job in sales much below his expectations and education. He liked to say his position as a car salesman was “taking a mental health break from mental health” and he was able to earn a good living selling Jaguars. (He has always loved Jaguars and has owned one most of his life.) While waiting for customers at the car dealership, he had time to read through the entire New Testament. In doing so, God showed him that work is just work. Chuck saw that the apostle Paul was a tentmaker — though his education and position as a Pharisee would indicate that he could have had a much more prestigious position. Prior to his encounter with Christ, we can assume that Paul held an authoritative post within the Jewish community. Yet the Bible does not talk much about Paul’s profession, but more about his actions and how he changed the world after his conversion. The Personality Profile for Paul in the Life Application Study Bible says, “No person, apart from Jesus himself, shaped the history of Christianity like the apostle Paul.”

Charles and Chuck were Christians when life dealt them a hard blow. For both of them, it was in that downtime that their relationship with Christ grew to a new level, to a place where they could view their job as just that — a job, like tentmaking. It does not define who they are.

While it is easier said than done, the first step Chuck advises Rich — or anyone in a situation similar to his — to take, is to adjust his thinking about his worthiness. For example, Rich’s job at the discount warehouse is just a job, a way to bring in some income, but it does not define who he is.

Center on Christ

Gaylen Larson, PhD, sees that Rich is struggling with self-esteem issues from which he feels like he will never recover. As a result, Gaylen sees that,

Because men define their worth by what they do, it would be important for Pat to go overboard in complimenting him. It may also help if he would teach a class at church or be involved in some leadership position. Even participating in a small group can be a great way to find support, love, and friendship. With a group that is based on Christ, healing can take place. These are ideas to help him feel better about himself.

Once a person struggling with issues like Rich’s reaches this place and allows his relationship with Christ to take on a deeper meaning in his life, he can then begin to see his marriage as a three-way relationship between him, his wife, and God. Charles tells of this time in his life:

God taught me that my relationship with Karen was a direct barometer of how my relationship was with Him. Now, I marvel at what the Lord has given us in our marriage. It is simply sweet. It is far beyond what I had thought would be possible for us, or for any marriage. As it is in all things, this marriage is His, not mine, not Karen’s — but I am sure glad I am one of the participants!

Build Communication with Each Other

After a change in one’s thinking about security and a relationship with Christ, Chuck next advises that couples in this place need to begin to build communication and open up to their true feelings. Maxine Marsolni, author of Blended Families, offers couples facing this shift in security this counsel:

When life throws you a curve ball — and you should expect it will once in a while, come together in prayer and goal attainment. So many of us seem to tie our sense of worth to our pocketbook and not our core personhood set forth by our creator. Until a couple can talk about their true feelings, it will be difficult to overcome the shame that accompanies their unmet expectations. Humility is often a hard ball to grasp, yet is the very core element of Christianity and marital bliss.

For Charles and Karen, prayer was an important part of the restoration of their relationship as well. Charles reflects,

We began to pray together each morning — walking and talking. Then we came together to discuss finances, future goals, and decisions that would affect our children.

As Charles was rediscovering himself in Christ, he was able to talk to Karen about what he was learning. Karen welcomed his conversations and encouraged him. Eventually, they recommitted themselves to the Lord, to one another, and to their family.

For the past twenty years, Marita Littauer has been training up-and-coming speakers and authors through the CLASSeminars. She speaks regularly across the nation, is a regular contributor to Marriage Partnership, Christian Communicator, Christian Bride, Godly Business Woman, and Writer’s Digest. She and her husband, Chuck Noon, live in Albuquerque, N.M.

Chuck Noon is a licensed professional counselor who has worked with hundreds of families in a variety of settings. Chuck and Marita have been married since 1983 and make their home in Albuquerque, N.M.

Taken from Tailor-Made Marriage © 2006 by Marita Littauer and Chuck Noon. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.