Your marriage is the union of two sinners. What a setup for problems! There are the “usual suspects” – money, sex, in-laws, household chores. Your marriage probably also has an additional load of baggage based on your unique circumstances. But could there be a way for good to come from your marriage problems?

Not long ago a married couple sent this note: “Our marriage is not perfect, but the greatest gift that God gave us is our imperfection. Our imperfection made us teachable.” And it got me thinking about reframing the challenges all married humans face.

If God’s goal for your marriage was to make you happy, then problems are to be studiously avoided. But the goal for your marriage is not happiness! As great as a good marriage is, as much joy and satisfaction as a healthy relationship with your spouse will bring, that’s not the purpose.

I believe God’s primary goal for human marriage is to teach us to love well.

And we humans don’t usually learn to do anything well without a struggle.

Yes, some marriages are toxic and destructive. There are times God releases you from such a toxic marriage. But for most, marriage problems can become valuable. A gift. Priceless.

Here’s how.

Rubbing Off Your Spines

Avery and Zion, good friends of mine, have described this in a powerful way. You and your spouse are both people with spines, prickly things sticking out of you that naturally wound and harm someone who comes too close. In marriage the closer you try to get, the more you hurt each other with your spines. Marriage becomes a laboratory to first see where you have spines, and then to allow the relationship to break off those spines in both of you so that you can come closer together without hurting one another.

That rings true with the way God works with human beings. Since sinners are the only humans available to marry, God pares you with someone who can help show you your spines. And you also help show up your spouse’s spines. Coming close in marriage makes those spines show up in ways other relationships may not.

And then marriage provides a laboratory where you can learn and practice doing things differently, removing your spines. That takes work! If both you and your spouse engage in that intentional process you can come closer and closer together over time as God does His good work in both of you.

You might never have the motivation to keep cooperating with God in removing your spines if the desire to come closer didn’t result in pain, allowing you to see them. Without that, you might never realize your role in your sense of isolation and misery.

That’s truly a gift.

Ongoing Transformation

God’s goal for every human being, married or unmarried, is to transform you into the likeness of His Son. (Romans 8:29) A sense of having “arrived” short-circuits that underlying purpose of God in your life.

And a great way to keep you engaged in God’s transformation process is to leverage the problems of your marriage.

To be clear, God does not enjoy your pain! He is saddened even more than you are when your marriage is hurt by addiction, conflict over sex or money, betrayal, or any number of other issues. But He uses those very pains to transform you.

When God said “The two shall become one flesh” He knew what He was talking about. There’s an important sense in which once you’re married, you’re stuck. You can never “undo” your union. Oh, you can divorce, or one spouse may die. But that marriage is a permanent part of you. If you leave, your soul will be torn apart. If you stay, you will have to endure much pain and trauma. You are *&^% if you do or if you don’t!

But God.

If your marriage ends God can restore you! But whether your marriage lasts or not, God desires the impossibilities to drive you to Himself. There is no other way to make it.

Marriage is not the only way God works His transformation in us, but in our society in particular I believe it’s one of God’s primary ways of doing exactly that.

That’s also truly a gift.

Finding the Gift

Please hear me: God does not condone or rejoice in your or your spouse’s pain. Working to come closer together in marriage must involve both partners – and God. But don’t miss what God is trying to do. Here are a few important keys to finding the gift in your marriage problems.

  1. You Go First. Regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do, the only one you have control over is you. When you focus on your spouse’s spines you can’t see your own. (Remember removing the log in your own eye first? Matthew 7:3-5) You are not the whole problem. But you go first in dealing with whatever part is up to you.
  2. Be Honest. This means being honest with yourself and God first and most completely. It also includes being honest with your spouse. Your job is not to say, “You’re doing this wrong.” But it is often helpful to say, “When you do this, it impacts me in this way.” That takes courage.
  3. Be Patient. Neither you nor your spouse will be able to “suddenly” remove all spines. Realize that God is patient with you; extend that same grace to both yourself and your spouse. That’s different from putting up with destructive behavior, but it does mean you cannot expect a marriage without challenges.
  4. Stay On Your Knees. This is a hugely important piece of advice at any stage of marriage. Give the Holy Spirit access to every part of your own heart, and when He asks to change something, say Yes. Invite Him into your marriage. Lift up your spouse to God. Seek His input on who He needs you to be to your spouse in this season.

Yes, even marriage problems can become a gift. Don’t waste them! Determine to mine even your marriage problems for the priceless treasure they can become.

Your Turn: Will you determine to look for the gift in your marriage problems, even when it may be hard to find? How can you invite God to leverage your marriage problems to do His good work of transformation in you? Leave a comment below.

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