Where on the spectrum of happy-to-unhappy is your marriage? What’s really the problem, and how serious is it? How can you diagnose your painful marriage? And then more importantly, what do you do about it?

If your marriage is struggling, you need help. And outside perspective, support, and input can be truly life-saving for your relationship! But you’re the one living in your marriage. And whether or not you get outside help, being honest with yourself is absolutely vital. Without brutal honesty the problems will never get better.

So if your marriage is less than happy, decide right now to get out of the victim mode. You’re not blaming your spouse for everything, and you’re not taking all the blame on yourself. You have legitimate difficult and troubling feelings that are worth honoring. But for right now, decide to get honest. Look below the surface in your relationship. These these four questions will help diagnose your painful marriage.

  1. If we continue like this, where will we be in 5 years?

Imagine your marriage continuing in the trajectory you’re on now. What will things be like in a few years? Do you like what you see?

Every marriage faces problems; after all, it’s the union of two sinners. Are you learning to work through your problems? Are you both regularly investing in your relationship? Have you worked through, or are you working through, the family-of-origin issues or other trauma you both brought with you?

Or are you mostly waiting and expecting your spouse to change? Or to fulfill all your needs? Have you focused so much on children or careers that you’re no longer friends? Has safety and intimacy left your marriage?

Getting honest about this question can help you become more intentional, and together address what beautiful thing you want to build in your marriage going forward.

  1. What’s it like to be married to me?

You can’t change your spouse, so it’s important to focus on you. Some will take this question and wallow in guilt and shame around less-than-perfection; that’s not the purpose, and it’s not healthy. But when I have a married person say to me, “Things would be great if my spouse would change!”, I know they need a new mindset.

Is your spouse safe with you? Are you growing as a spouse, and as a person? What affect do you have on your spouse? If you were your spouse, are you the kind of person you’d like to spend time with?

Remember, your less-than-perfection does not excuse your spouse’s bad behavior. But what is the Holy Spirit wanting to change in you? Cooperate with Him in doing so.

  1. What would I tell my best friend to do?

Put on your very best consultant hat. You are not all-knowing, but you know a lot, and you know more than anyone except God about what’s going on in your marriage. Imagine your sister, brother, daughter, son, or best friend were in the exact marriage situation you’re in right now. What would you tell them to do?

I recently asked this of a godly wife wrestling for decades in a very toxic marriage. She said, “I’d tell them to leave.”

This question can help remove personal emotions from clouding your perspective and provide a lot of truth. Am I experiencing abuse? Is this a toxic marriage? Are you afraid of your spouse? Many people downplay abuse or toxicity by calling it a communication problem, or a need to learn better conflict resolution skills. You may very well need to learn communication or conflict resolution! But doing so will not cure toxicity or abuse.

  1. Who is God calling me to be?

This is perhaps the most important question of all. The earlier three questions help you diagnose what’s going on, and this question helps you discern what to do next.

Sometimes God is calling you to take your grubby hands off so He can do His work in your spouse’s heart. Sometimes He is calling you to let the small stuff go and work with Him in changing your own heart and behavior. He might be calling you to set some hard boundaries that might make it possible for your relationship to be preserved.

But it’s also possible He is releasing you from your marriage. Whenever I mention this I do so with a bit of fear that someone will read this and leave an unhappy marriage just because your needs aren’t being met as you wish; that’s not God’s way. But I’ve also seen too many stay in marriages where they are being destroyed through toxicity or abuse; that’s not God’s way either.

You desperately need God’s perspective here. And that often comes through some outside input from others with wisdom and experience. Get quiet and ask God to show you who He is calling you to be. And then consider getting help.

Getting Help

God designed us to live and grow and thrive in community. Trying to figure things out and get better all by yourself rarely works well!

So see how you first diagnose your painful marriage as a starting place. You’re choosing to be as honest as you know how to be without either shouldering the blame or blaming your spouse. And then get some help. If you struggle to answer these questions, that in itself is a good indicator that you need some outside input. It might be helpful to bring your honest answers to these questions, as best as you can answer them, to your counselor or pastor. (And I do personal coaching in these areas also.)

God can and does restore anyone and anything where He is given opportunity. If your spouse also votes Yes, God can restore your marriage even when it seems impossible! And if your spouse doesn’t vote yes, God can still restore you.

Your Turn: What’s it like to consider these questions? How would you diagnose your painful marriage? You might share a part of your personal answer in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

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  • Diagnosing your painful marriage is an important step. If your marriage is unhappy, stop blaming either yourself or your spouse and consider these four challenging questions. Tweet that.

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