There’s plenty of marriage advice out there: pre-marital counseling, marriage seminars, sermons and books proclaiming the magic of a marriage with God at the center. Many couples have been helped by such advice. But too often such advice seems to all but guarantee that commitment, happiness, healing, intimacy, and growth will happen if you will do certain things. I think I’ve been guilty of coming across that way at times: God has blessed me with a beautiful marriage.
But what if you’re stuck in a bad marriage, and nothing you do seems to be working? I hear from people who feel stuck even though they’ve given all they know to give:
- The committed wife whose husband refuses to admit his pornography addiction is a problem
- The pastor who’s been faithful to his wife for 30 years even though she can’t bring herself to connect sexually
- The believer who wants to remain faithful to their marriage vows, but who is struggling with same-sex attraction
- The survivor of past abuse who is still triggered by sounds, touches, or other things now even from a caring spouse
- The godly spouse who just discovered their husband or wife has been involved in an emotional affair, or worse
If you’re in one of those types of marriages you may feel very alone. You carry a basket of hidden heartbreak that few may fully understand: hopelessness, betrayal, fear, frustration, resignation. You’ve read the books, watched the Christian TV programs, listened to the sermons, loved and prayed and poured yourself out to your spouse in unselfishness until you feel empty.
And still nothing changes. They’re not willing to change. Your heart (or their heart) still won’t connect. Is it your fault? Sometimes it’s hard to know. And the daily struggle gets no better.
I wish I could promise you “5 quick steps to fix a broken marriage.” But I can’t.
What I can do is suggest some truths to remember that will provide some hope and perspective.
Things to Know if You’re in a Bad Marriage
- You’re not alone. You may feel as though your circumstances are worse than anyone else’s are. But there are others who are struggling in a sexless marriage, fighting same-sex attraction, wishing their abuse baggage would go away, or feeling lost and betrayed because of their spouse’s actions. Don’t assume everyone will understand, but there’s someone somewhere who will. And Jesus always understands.
- You can only change you. Some marriage problems escalate when one spouse continually tries to fix the other. (Sound familiar? How has that worked out for you?) All you can do is be as honest as you can about your part in the equation. Have you gotten whatever help is available for your own issues? Have you allowed God to do His work in your own heart? That doesn’t mean you’ll ever be perfect, or that you won’t have problems. It just means you’re focusing on what is within your power to do.
- God never promised a marriage without problems. The way some Christians talk you would think that God works by formula: do this, pray this way, have this person pray for you, and your marriage (and everything else in your life) will work out OK. But in this world that’s just not true. However, God often does use marriage to rub off the sharp edges in our character, and to grow us up. Even the best marriages have serious struggles. Sometimes God uses those pressures to turn us into the diamonds He desires us to be.
- It takes two to make a marriage work. It goes without saying that if you can only change you, you cannot change your spouse. You do have a lot of influence in your spouse’s life. But you can’t decide their level of commitment, their willingness to grow, or whether they will allow God to work in their life. God will honor their free will just as He honors yours. Sometimes that results in pain to you.
- Your choices will have consequences. How you treat your spouse, whether or not you seek or accept intimacy outside your marriage, how hard you work to deal with your own baggage – all these and more will have consequences in the future. Think of yourself five years from now. What would the future you tell you to do right now? I know at least this much: you will want to look back and know you gave your marriage everything you could possibly give.
- God can heal anything. That includes you, your spouse, and your marriage. But that doesn’t guarantee the timing, the method, or the details of how you experience that healing. And you certainly can’t control whether your spouse accepts God’s intervention in their life, and both of you will need to know God’s transformation for your marriage to be healed. Do what is in your power to do: pray, and do all you can to learn to love well. Then leave the outcome in God’s hands.
- You’re going to be OK. Whether or not your marriage improves, or even survives, YOU can survive. God has promised to never leave you. Your personal healing, growth, or maturity can continue regardless of what happens with your marriage or your spouse. You have more choices than you think. Give God’s grace an opportunity to fill your own heart and show you the next step. He will help you make the choices you need to make.
I don’t know what your marriage will be like tomorrow.
I do know that you have more choices about your future than you probably realize, and many of those choices may be able to help your marriage become stronger.
But whether or not that happens, I know that God is with you today if you ask Him. And He will be with you tomorrow as well – happily married, unhappily married, or unmarried.
Your Turn: If you feel as though you’ve done all you can and your marriage is still troubled, what would you want a Christian friend to say to you right now? Leave a comment below.
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