There’s little that impacts your wellbeing more than the quality of your closest personal relationships. Your marriage in particular, as the union of two sinners, is a breeding ground for disappointment and pain. When your wellbeing is so impacted by your spouse, it’s easy to develop a sense of powerlessness in your marriage.

I hear about it all the time; “I try to talk to my spouse, but they won’t respond.” “My spouse doesn’t want to have sex with me.” “I’ve talked to my spouse about it and they say they’ll do better, but nothing ever changes.” Feeling powerless is an understandable response.

But it’s not your only option. You’re only a victim if you choose to be. You will have to intentionally choose to fight the sense of powerlessness in your marriage. Here’s how to do that.

Where You ARE Powerlessness

Starting with actually being powerless? Yes.

You’ve hopefully learned by now that you can’t manipulate or force your spouse or your marriage to be what you want it to be. You may have heard the short version of the Serenity Prayer, used in 12-step programs and particularly useful here: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Each of the three parts of that prayer is so vital. There are some things you are powerless over, some things you cannot change in your marriage. And here are a few of them:

  • Your past and your spouse’s past
  • What’s already happened in your relationship
  • Who your spouse is

95% of people who contact me about their difficult relationship are focusing on things they cannot change – the past, or their spouse’s choices. That’s simply not helpful.

The serenity to accept the things you cannot change means being able to say, “My spouse is an addict.” “My spouse has been cheating.” “My spouse continues to use porn.” “Our communication is broken.” “Our baggage from the past is destroying our relationship.

But owning that reality makes the next step possible. This does NOT mean your spouse’s bad behavior is OK! Far from it! But it allows you to then say, “Given that my spouse is doing this, what am I going to do next?” “What I’ve been doing is not working; now I’m going to do something different.” Or, “My past behavior resulted in this; I’m going to do the hard work of learning to change myself now.”

And that’s where you move out of powerlessness into taking responsibility for what you can change.

What You CAN Change

Multiple scientific studies demonstrate that focusing on what is outside your control breeds anxiety and depression, while focusing on what you can do something about leads to inner resilience, a positive attitude, and much more fulfilling outcomes.

In your marriage you don’t have control over your spouse, but you do have influence. And you certainly have control over your own thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Your spouse cannot make you feel any certain way. You are only a victim if you choose to be. (Certainly abuse happens; if that’s the case, you can still choose the actions you take in response.)

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” No one, not even your spouse, can make you feel angry, frustrated, depressed, lonely, or anything else. Sure, your spouse and all the other circumstances around you affect you, but you still have the choice about what you think and do next.

So that means what you can change is yourself. And that’s not easy! If you naturally hold a grudge, it will be hard to learn how to offer healthy forgiveness. If you easily get angry or run from conflict, it will be hard to learn how to fight fair. Or if you tend to sweep stuff under the rug, it will be hard to learn to have difficult conversations. But these are things you can learn.

Learning those things may mean getting some help. It takes courage, and it’s a measure of owning your personal responsibility, to see a marriage counselor. Or to take advantage of resources such as our Guide to Healthy Communication in Marriage.

You may well learn that one place you are powerless is to change your own heart on your own. But that’s where prayer comes in.

HOW to Pray

Yes, pray. Pray for God to intervene – in your marriage, in your spouse’s heart. But you may well have been doing that. God hears you! And He cares. But how you pray makes a difference.

You can bring your desperateness to God; He welcomes all of it. His shoulders are big enough to handle all your hurt, anger, frustration, loneliness, or whatever it is. You can cry, yell, pout, or anything else in His presence and He won’t love you any less.

But in order to move forward you’ll have to get to the next stage – that of asking God helpful questions and getting quiet long enough to hear His voice. Your prayer is not a coin in a heavenly vending machine, but you can learn to pray so much more effectively for your marriage.

Such questions as these are helpful:

  • Jesus, how do You see my heart? My spouse’s heart? My marriage?
  • What’s really going on here? Is spiritual warfare a factor?
  • Who do You need me to be to my spouse in this season?

Remember that your spouse is not your enemy. But your marriage does have an enemy! Don’t let him use your unhappiness or guilt to keep you from praying for your marriage, and being the spouse God needs you to be right now.

Our online course Powerful Breakthrough Prayers will deepen your understanding of the principles of effective prayer, and help you experience practical ways of cooperating with God in what He is doing.

Join this course to learn more about praying for a breakthrough – for your own heart, and for your marriage. It will change your sense of powerlessness in your marriage. 


Your Turn: Have you felt powerless in your marriage? Have you been trying to change things that are out of your control? How can you change your focus to what you can do something about? Leave a comment below. 

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