I am only six years and nine months into marriage. By most definitions I am still a newlywed, and thus I do not have all the answers. But I have some (this is the year of walking in God-given truth rather than false humility). I have walked through a few valleys in my short time as a wife, and I have been privileged to walk with other couples as they journeyed towards one flesh. I paid attention to how conflict, life-changes and even sin impacts marriages. I take special note when marriages come back from the brink of despair and divorce versus when they fall over the edge. There are lessons to learn in good times and in bad. And applying my heart to wisdom has saved me from some critical missteps.
When marriage is no longer a dream because the joy is gone – pray for and apply the grace to make yourself joyful. There are many times when I am convincing myself that areas of my marriage will get better when my husband starts or stops doing certain things. If he would only do xyz, then I could be happy. I have realized that being joyful is a heart position. If I wait on my husband to make me happy before I decide to choose happiness, I would be waiting a long time and building up resentment in the meantime. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit so before we go on with all the self-care suggestions, get before the Lord and pray for His joy to flood your heart. And begin to choose joy in every moment. If all you have to be grateful for in a day (because there are some really crappy days) is the fact that you are alive, then rejoice for the grace to see another day. And commit to trying for more joy tomorrow. If what infuses you with joy is a good book, some silence, quality time with your spouse/friends, music or even a good meal – go for it! Whatever you joy “hack” is, plan it for yourself and indulge to your heart’s content. Do not wait on your husband to make you happy. Infuse the joy you want to see into your union. Your joy will rub off on your spouse and hopefully begin to infuse new joy into your union.
When marriage is no longer a dream because your spouse has morphed into a less lovable, caring, thoughtful, or functional version of who you thought you married – look in before you look out. A lot of times, the way people treat us as less to do with us than it does with what is going on with them internally. Before you decide that your spouse is just a terrible person and you can’t do anything more for them, are there any life-changes that could have prompted the behavior your spouse is exhibiting? Any changes to either of your schedules, lifestyles, careers, family (expanding or shifting) or sense of self that could be at the root of this unhappy version of your spouse? Do you know if you spouse’s needs for love, security, respect, affirmation, touch and emotional connection are being met? Don’t guess. Ask. Start there and do the deep digging to find out how satisfied your spouse is with the quality of their life. If you do not have the tools to ask the right type of questions or your spouse seems closed up to your prodding, get professional help through a trusted counselor, advisor or therapist. In a lot of the cases that I have observed, this is usually where the problem lies. Because “life changes” can cover everything from a change in work schedule to the frequency of sex in your marriage. Anything can affect the dynamics in a marriage. A marriage is a function of two different personalities and when one of those personalities shifts even a little bit, the dynamics in the relationship will shift too, oftentimes drastically. Most of the time, when a good marriage goes sour, it is because a need is no longer being met. Either what worked yesterday no longer works today because each individual has grown or changed. Or a new need arises that the couple does not realize is not being met. Most of the marriages that thrive in my own circle of influence are unions where husband and wife are forever recalibrating to each other’s changing needs. It takes intentionality and work but the payoff is worth it.
Most of us want the path of least resistance. If you liked flowers three years ago, I want to give you flowers forever and ever and assume that’s the best way to make you feel better. When your affinity for flowers disappears and is replaced by a longing for deep conversation and quality time, if I am not paying attention, I will miss the shift and begin to be resentful when I do not get the same positive reactions to flowers that I have begin to expect.
When marriage is no longer a dream because one of us (either me or my spouse) is in crisis, then it is time to put the work behind my vows. “Through thick and thin/rich and poor/sickness and health” are not just words. They are my soul’s pledge to do the right thing when everything else says otherwise. When I am in crisis, it is easy to focus on the object of my disdain and lose even the desire to invest in my spouse. But God knew that the crisis would arise before He called me to the ministry of marriage and when I give an account for what I did in my home, He will not excuse my neglect or sin against my spouse because life got hard – even impossibly hard. Even if the best I can manage in my crisis, is not to push my spouse away, and to accept their love when they give it – I believe grace will cover the rest. When my spouse is the one in crisis, unable to function as my partner and covering like I need them to be, I have to believe that God can cover what is missing for me. God did not create me to languish in the union He told me to enter into. If there is a need that is beyond my spouse at the moment, it is not beyond God. He has to fill me up, so I am not running on empty while trying to single-handedly keep my marriage alive (because my spouse is unwilling or unable). The good news is that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. Whatever challenges are bombarding my marriage because of the fallen and sinful world in which we live, Christ has already made provision for me to overcome. The God who can bring back life after the grave can resurrect my marriage even at the point where it seems irrevocably broken.
When marriage is no longer a dream because little foxes (third parties/affairs, unsupportive family/loved ones, exes and prior relationships) are coming in to spoil the vines, it is time to set some trap and catch the critters. How do you set the trap? By praying specifically against the wiles of the enemy and being watchful about which entryways they are using to infiltrate your marriage. If certain conversations are poisoning your heart towards each other, it is time to cut off those communications. You may or may not have to cut off the parties involve all together. Let wisdom lead you. But if it is people that you must stay in community with out of necessity, but they want to know what is going on in your marriage so they can discourage you, perfect the art of the one-word answer, and pivot.
“How are things between you and [your spouse]? – someone digging for dirt.
“Great! [the one-word answer]. Did you see that video with [insert something unrelated]? [the pivot] – you, blocking entryways for the little foxes.
If family members, exes, or previous relationships are the ones tripping you up, it is time to set some hard-lined boundaries. Be prepared for the pushback when the people who are used to having free access to you begin to meet road blocks. The guards you set in place to protect yourself and your union will be treated like a declaration of war. And for the sake of your marriage, you may have to make peace with being misunderstood. Everyone is not under the same obligation to protect your marriage at all costs like you are. They will give an account for their own behavior but God is not gonna ask them about what went wrong in your union. That responsibility is squarely on your shoulders. Be unapologetic about championing the health of your marriage before any other relationship (yes, even relationships with your parents or your children; if God wanted those relationships to be more important than your marriage, He would not have called you to leave them and cleave to your spouse).
If someone has interjected themselves into your marriage to steal the love, affection, emotional connection or physical intimacy that rightfully belongs to you or your spouse, I am of the “righteous indignation” persuasion. God appointed you to your position in your spouse’s life, any other “rival” is an illegitimate adversary. Stand firm in your position and do not give an inch to the enemy or his devices. Seek guidance and counseling to give you the proper tools to overcome this assault on your union but do not lay down your weapons and surrender just because the enemy mounted an attack. Even if you lose ONE battle, win the war.
Marriage is a HOLY covenant. It is not a man-made institution. The devil hates marriages and he will use all manners of devices, people and institutions to undermine something so near and dear to the heart of God. If you are enduring challenges and agony in your marriage, please send me a private message. I would love to pray with you and send you some resources. God made us to thrive in our unions and He alone can give us what we need to not only endure the hard times but flourish through them.