Yes, God does miracles! He can and does transform the most destructive and hurtful marriages into shining demonstrations of His love and grace. But the painful reality is, that doesn’t always happen. Not every marriage can be saved. While He does miracles every day, there are some things God will not do for your marriage.

Today I’m talking to those of you who have been praying and praying for your marriage, and nothing seems to be changing. Prayer is always the right thing to do. Always. But prayer is not always enough. If that sounds wrong, stay with me and let me explain.

In writing about this I have two fears. First, I worry that someone in a difficult marriage will use what I write as an excuse to leave their marriage because they’re unhappy. And second, I worry that someone will take something I write as encouragement to stay in a truly destructive marriage even when God is releasing them. I pray you do neither.

God intended marriage to be permanent. It’s a sacred covenant, meant to be a demonstration of the covenant love with which God loves us. You don’t leave because it’s hard! Every single marriage is the union of two sinners, and that’s a setup for trouble. There’s an important sense in which every marriage is hopeless – but for God. I’ve personally known marriages marred by addiction, violence, or betrayal that God has restored. 

But not every marriage can be saved. That’s not because of any failure on God’s part! So what’s going on here?

The Heart of the Matter

Your heart is the whole point of everything God does with you. If He only wanted your obedience He could have made you a robot. But He desires your love and worship, and that can only be offered by someone with free will. Love cannot be commanded. Love is only love when it’s freely offered.

And God deals with your spouse the same way. Because love cannot be commanded, God will not manipulate your spouse into loving Himself – or you – any more than He manipulates you. That would be contrary to His nature. God can restore anyone and anything where the people involved give Him opportunity to do so. And when it comes to your marriage, both you and your spouse get a vote.

Remember that God loves your spouse even more than you do. He is after his/her heart just as much as He desires your heart. And He will not override their free will – or yours.

In one sense God doesn’t succeed at everything. He created Adam and Eve and placed them in a perfect environment, and they rebelled and turned against Him. Jesus called twelve disciples, and one of them betrayed Him. God’s desire is that every human being be saved, but not all will be.

That’s the price of free will, the price of love. When relentless wooing fails to win the beloved’s heart, true love allows the beloved to walk away – still loving them. (See Hosea 11:8)

Free Will in Your Marriage

I hear from many spouses who are desperate for their marriage to get better. They want their spouse to change, and are trying everything they know to get him/her to do so. It’s like they are clenching their fists while searching for just the right tactic to fix things. If they could just find the right manipulation strategy – even the right prayer – perhaps they can save their marriage.

If that’s you, you have very good reasons for responding that way. You may feel terrified, hurt, lonely. The shame and embarrassment of your marriage possibly failing is too much to contemplate. And so you grip even more tightly and try still harder. And you become more tired and miserable – and unappealing – in the process.

Other spouses are hurting terribly but take a position of sitting back wondering why God doesn’t answer their prayers to change things. They watch their marriage crumble and their soul be destroyed by the blatant toxicity coming from their spouse, and they do nothing.

If that’s you, consider that you may be judging God by what your spouse does. Your faith may feel frayed because your spouse is destructive. That’s actually placing your spouse in the role only God should have in your heart. Feeling upset is normal, but remember this is your spouse’s choices, not God’s.

God is in the business of miracles, not magic. He can transform even your horribly broken marriage into something beautiful – if both you and your spouse allow Him to do so. And He can also transform you regardless of your spouse’s choices. That’s terribly important to remember.

Can Your Marriage Be Saved?

God knows what will happen in your marriage. Your role is to make sure your vote is Yes. In the midst of your tears, anger, or pain, here are a few important things to do on your side.

Seek God’s Perspective. How you need this! Is your spouse’s heart evil, or is it wounded? How is your own brokenness adding to the struggle? Is God releasing you from this marriage that has become toxic? Who does He need you to be to your spouse in this season? Ask Him directly to show you His perspective, and get quiet long enough to listen for His response.

Open Your Hands. No more clenched fists. Your fear or pain make it hard to do so, but open your hands. Trying to control your spouse or your marriage isn’t working anyway. Yes, you fight for your marriage – but not by trying to control. (More about fighting for your marriage next time.)

Open Your Heart. Your heart can become closed toward your spouse, which only makes the work God is trying to do more difficult. Contempt and inner walls build easily when you’re in pain. It will take intentional work to keep your heart open, to set healthy boundaries for the purpose of making relationship possible, and to engage in healthy forgiveness while making the rebuilding of trust possible.

Do Your Own Work. Your spouse is not the only sinner in your marriage. You brought your own baggage along for the ride. Therefore it will be critical for you to deal with your own stuff – codependency, sexual baggage, family of origin patterns, communication failures, etc. You do what you can do. You become the spouse your spouse would want to be with if their heart is or becomes open.

Stay On Your Knees. Don’t stop praying. Yes, cry out to God with your hurts and frustrations. Of course continue to ask Him to intervene! But learn to also get quiet and listen to His answers. Some very helpful things to ask Jesus:

  • Jesus, how do You see my marriage? My spouse’s heart? My heart?
  • Jesus, where do You need me to let go so You can do Your work?
  • Jesus, what step do You need me to take next? What change do I need to make? 
  • Jesus, who do You need me to be to my spouse in this season?
  • Jesus, are You asking me to stay? Or are You releasing me?

Often doing your own work will stimulate your spouse to do their work. That’s their choice, not yours. But if you do your own work it increases the chance that your marriage will be saved. And if not, doing your own work will be part of God’s restoration of you day by day.

Your Turn: Where are you in your marriage? Are you doing your work? Have you stopped long enough to truly listen to what Jesus may be asking of you? Leave a comment below.

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  • God intended marriage to be forever. But not every marriage can be saved – not because of any fault on God’s part. If you’re in a difficult marriage, here’s how to think about this.   Tweet that

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