When marriages all around you are dissolving, it is normal to start wondering how yours is going to make it. It might be your parents’ marriage that didn’t last. Maybe you know of a couple that wedded the same year as you and now you’ve witnessed their dramatic divorce. You might keep up with headlines to see famous marriages dwindle with the decades.
No doubt, right now you can name family members, friends, ministry leaders, and church leaders who are struggling or have even announced their intentions to end it. Perhaps yours is the one struggling.
Sadly the stories are so familiar we’ve become a bit blasé, when those we trust, look up to, or depend on tell us their marriages are over.
Having watched too many marriages fail over our 41 years of marriage ministry, I know the one emotion most women feel when news like this breaks is fear. Collectively we ask the same question of ourselves: If this marriage couldn’t survive, what hope is there for mine?
Yet over the years I have seen many marriages miraculously resurrected. As a result, I have learned some very important truths I want to share to encourage you because, your marriage is worth fighting for!
The enemy of our souls, satan himself, would love nothing more than to use your fear about someone else’s divorce to suggest to you that your marriage is beyond redemption, too.
But here is what I know to be true:
1. No one is exempt from marriage failure, especially those in ministry. Dennis and I have felt the bullseye on our backs many times through the years. It is by perseverance, lots of hard work, and God’s work in our hearts that we have survived and are thriving.
2. No marriage dies suddenly overnight. The only way a marriage dies in an instant is through the death of a spouse.
3. All marriage deaths begin as slow leaks, small compromises that in the moment seem harmless but gradually erode the foundation of the relationship. The decision to end may be sudden, even dramatic. But the cancer was present long before the outward signs of emotional distance, going through the motions, or infidelity became visible.
4. For a marriage to make it, feeding and nourishing the relationship can never stop. Marriage is a living relationship. When attention to its health is minimized or overlooked or assumptions are made that “all is well,” the relationship begins to unravel. Just as most of us schedule annual physical checkups for our health, so marriages must have regular checkups–spiritual health evaluations–to detect small cellular level malignancies.
5. No spouse is perfect. I’m not perfect and neither is my husband. We are sinful, selfish, and in desperate need of the gospel in our lives every single day. It’s too easy to proclaim the faults of your spouse.
A lasting marriage, though, requires both husband and wife take responsibility for nurturing each another and feeding the relationship. Both must also own responsibility to quickly admit faults and ask for forgiveness. Therefore, both have responsibility before God for any marital demise. Romans 3:10 declares, “There is none righteous, not even one…” and Romans 3:23 adds, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
6. As long as both spouses have breath, and neither has remarried, God can heal and restore. But He must have at least one humble broken heart before Him, one spouse who is willing to do whatever it takes. Tim Keller gave a great sermon that would be worth listening to for his encouragement for those of you who feel married to a spouse who isn’t investing as you would desire.
7. To say a marriage is beyond repair is to say God is not all-powerful. It is to say in God’s hearing (for He hears every word and knows every thought) that the miracle of the cross, the resurrection of a dead Jesus to life again, isn’t enough for this marriage of yours. If Jesus can defeat physical death, He can most certainly raise your dead marriage to life.
Beware, my sisters, of declaring God weak. The inspired Word of God says, “Nothing is too hard for God” (Jeremiah 32:17). God’s Word is more true than the state of your relationship with your spouse. Hundreds of couples have attended Weekend to Remember marriage getaways with divorce papers in hand only to tear them up at the end of the event. One couple who just attended said last week, “We loved each other but hated our marriage and didn’t know how to fix it. The conference saved our marriage.”
8. Marriages are often full of pain and loss. All marriages suffer regularly from mistakes, sin patterns, poor choices, and challenges with health, jobs, school, or parenting circumstances. Some of you are married to unbelievers, which is hard in different ways.
All suffering is real and painful. I’ve experienced it as have many of you. But there are other kinds of marriage pain. Some marriages face abuse, addictions, or dangerous situations. Submitting to physical abuse is not God’s will. By all means, get help and talk to wise mature counselors, a trusted pastor, or the elder board at your church. At the end of this post are several links for more help and hope on these topics.
9. Separation and the threat of divorce are sometimes needed to force the seriousness of the situation to the forefront. Spouses need humility, wise counsel, and good support before making this decision and while carrying it out.
Sometimes we can see signs of neglect in someone else’s marriage. But more importantly you need to be able to identify them in yours. The best way to know if your marriage is in danger is to do an evaluation. Be courageous. Don’t pretend your marriage has no issues, no cracks in the foundation, no work to be done. Pretending is only good for children. It’s never good for your marriage or your faith.
Ask God to give you eyes to see what He sees and already knows is there in your relationship. Be brave, my sisters.
Here are some questions to help you evaluate your own marriage:
1. Have you stopped being best friends with your spouse? When did this begin? Do you enjoy your friends more than your spouse?
2. When did you stop being each other’s confidant … going on dates, sharing your best moments with each other?
3. Have you stopped dreaming together? Have you stopped sharing your fears and your hopes, too?
4. Do you risk sharing your struggles with sin with one another? Do you share your desire to please God, your disappointment with God? When did you stop confessing your failures and mistakes? When did you stop asking your spouse to pray for you?
5. When was the last time you asked your spouse to forgive you? A healthy marriage is a forgiving marriage. We offend each other daily, often unintentionally, but when we recognize our mistakes, our failures, say so. Deny your pride and practice forgiveness generously. Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, once said, “Marriage is the union of two forgivers.”
6. When did you stop caring about having sex together? When did you decide it wasn’t worth it anymore? Keeping sex a healthy part of your marriage is essential to keeping it alive. Unless there is a medical condition that prevents you or your spouse from sharing this experience regularly, you will be wise to pay attention to this God-created and ordained part of marriage.
Yes, sex is a mystery. It’s often challenging. It isn’t always a fireworks experience. But it is designed to be emotionally bonding, and bonding is like glue in your marriage.
When I say pay attention to having sex together I don’t mean three or four times a year. To read more about sex in marriage, I’d love for you to read my book, Letters to My Daughters, The Art of Being a Wife. I have an entire chapter on this subject.
7. Have you started assuming all is well? Are you pretending in any area?
8. When was the last time you got away for an entire weekend to invest in your marriage? I want to encourage everyone who reads this post to find a weekend this fall or next spring to attend the best marriage conference, a proven success for over 40 years. Like a regular tune up for your car or regular check ups with your doctor, this marriage event is the realignment every marriage needs, not just once in a lifetime, but repeatedly over the life of your marriage. Every season in your marriage presents new needs.
9. Do you say no to other needs, activities, or tasks so you can have time for your marriage? Despite our modern beliefs to the contrary you simply cannot do it all. Your children can’t do every sport or activity and attend the best schools, while you (husband and wife) give your life to your work, your ministry, your mission, your community, your church, or your fixer-upper house.
You may believe you have the energy to juggle it all, but something will suffer. Usually it’s your marriage. You must have margin in your life to invest in each other. When you are both working full time in separate spheres what do you have in common beyond your home address? You must make decisions that favor your marriage, decisions that give it room to grow. No one else can or will do it for you.
Here is the bottom line for all of us: “Search me O God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). We cannot do marriage on our own. It is God’s invention and we need Him to make it work.
Go to Him.
Talk to Him.
Make sure your heart is right.
Here is my prayer for you and all who are Christ followers in marriages:
May you stand strong for your marriage. May you believe God and see Him work wonders in your heart and your spouse’s heart. May you stand with me and say, “No more victories for satan. Not in my marriage!” Lord, give us women courage to believe You, in every circumstance, every day. Amen!
For more help on pornography click here.
For more help on substance abuse click here.
For more help on an abusive spouse click here.
For more help on living with an unbelieving spouse click here.
For more help with infidelity click here.
For more help on “drifting apart” click here.
For more help on saving your marriage click here.