How the Old “You” Will Have to Die for Your Marriage to Survive

Young couple standing by cross, praying for their marriage to survive.

OH! That’s not what the preacher said when he or she pronounced you man and wife. Dying is not what you signed up for. You were looking for connection, romance, L-U-S-T (love, understanding, sex, and trust). But since God designed marriage as a laboratory in which you learn to love well, in your marriage you will die. More precisely, the old you will have to die if your marriage is to survive.

Some have grossly distorted this truth. To be clear; there are some marriages where one spouse’s toxicity and violence kill the other spouse physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. That is always evil and wrong. That is not what I’m talking about today. If your marriage is destructive, please get some help now!

Every marriage is the union of two sinners. There are no other options! And sin is not just particular acts you might do; it’s also the very way in which the DNA of your being has been corrupted. You are made in the image of God. AND you’ve got a lot of changing to do in order to become like Jesus.

God uses marriage as a significant part of that process.

What Needs to Die

When Jesus calls us to follow Him it’s both Come and dine and Come and die. One without the other is a distortion of the gospel. For marriage, Come and dine means that in a relationship as God intended it both partners experience real and meaningful goodness. Intimacy and joy nourish your souls.

And Come and die means you will not be able to remain as you were if your marriage is to be life-giving. A few of the things that will need to die in you include:

Selfishness. Coming to your marriage for what you can get will always leave you empty and disappointed. Selfishness will lead you to grasp for what you want and become angry or manipulative when you don’t get it. Marriage is the invitation to learn how to loosen your grip on making the world all about you and focus on the good of the relationship.

Your past. Marriage often brings to light the distorted expectations and old wounds you brought with you from the past. It may feel you are now forced to deal with the old stuff; if you don’t, your marriage is at risk of ending. Your allegiance to your family of origin needs to die as well, as you develop a new allegiance to your spouse–leaving and cleaving. (Matthew 19:5)

Old styles of relating. Marriage quickly demonstrates that your old ways of relating don’t work. Your hiding prevents intimacy. Your prickliness and criticism drive your spouse away. Trying to control destroys the very connection you’re hungry for. Avoiding dealing with hurtful behavior just lets it grow. New ways of relating feel risky and awkward but you have no choice if you want a relationship that thrives.

Loving and Dying

Learning to love well is a helpful framework to explain what dying in marriage does and doesn’t mean. If you die, who are you sacrificing yourself to?

Importantly, you are not sacrificing yourself to your spouse. Sacrificing yourself to any human being makes them your god. And God is not pleased. Some Christians have made an idol out of marriage. God never guaranteed you a happy married life or a satisfying sex life.

As you’re reading this notice whether you’re thinking more of yourself or your spouse. If you’re thinking “my spouse isn’t doing this,” STOP! This might sound like “you’re not working hard enough to support me”, or “you need to give me more sex”, or “why don’t you ever listen to me?” Never anywhere in Scripture is anyone ever given license to demand their own rights.

If you feel like demanding your spouse “die” for your benefit in some way, you are the one who needs to die. You are not loving well.

And if you’re thinking about yourself, be cautious here too. Some spouses put up with ongoing bad behavior that is destroying the relationship thinking they’re loving well. That’s a false assumption. Sometimes loving well means dying to your fear, pride, or shame and confronting what’s destroying your marriage, setting hard boundaries, or having hard conversations.

It comes down to becoming the person God needs you to be. Remember how Jesus loved. He was not simply “nice.” Niceness is not kindness.

Who does God need you to be to your spouse in this season? That’s loving well.

What does Dying Look Like?

It’s not being a doormat, allowing yourself to be destroyed by your spouse’s toxicity. Dying to the parts of you that need to die in the service of loving well might be even more challenging. It might look like:

  • A husband dedicates his life to caring for his disabled wife, committing to finding as much joy in the process as they both can. This is the story of Katherine and Jay Wolf.
  • A wife refuses to give up on her porn-addicted husband, risking herself to fight for love – successfully. That’s Rosie and Mark Makinney.
  • A wife attracted to girls and a husband struggling with porn learn to submit their sexuality to Jesus and build a marriage that lasts. Matt and Laurie Krieg have done that.

Dying to the old you and learning to love well is not weak, or quick, or simple. It is often fierce, long, and complicated. And with God at the center of your own heart and of your marriage, it’s possible.

Your Turn: Had you imagined the degree to which marriage would require dying to the old you? What is God asking you to do in your own relationship right now for your marriage to survive?   Leave a comment below.

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  • The old YOU will have to die if you want to have a healthy marriage that survives. That doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself to your spouse. It does mean the old you will have to change.  Tweet that.

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