The Third Person In Your Marriage

Is it amazing to anyone else how much you think you know about marriage before you are, in fact, actually married?

And then (say, a year later) how much you actually are quite sure you don’t know?

Dan Allender speaks of marriage as both an experience of heaven and hell.


Marriage, at least in my own experience, has handed me some of the greatest prolonged elation in my life. And still, it has a way of opening my eyes to just how powerless, weak, and broken I am. I actually insisted to my husband early on in our marriage that I had never had an anger problem with anyone else in my life—so the problem must be with him.

(Yes. That is just as illogical as it appears.)

Bryan Adams sang, Your lonely nights have just begun/when you love someone. And for your sake, I might hope that your marriage is so Disney-esque that you have no idea what he’s talking about. But for the rest of us mere mortals, marriage can have its moments of loneliness as you realize just how elusive “one flesh” can be: after that argument. Or when he’s oblivious. Or when you’re (gasp!) just as stubborn as your two-year-old.

Marriage brings me—us—to our knees.

But it’s at those moments, the Word tells us, that His power is brought to its loudest crescendo in our lives. Paul David Washer writes, “I used to tell young preachers, in order to preach you’ve got to have the power of God on your life. Now I tell them, in order to tie your shoes you’ve got to have the power of God on your life.” Marriage simply flays open the weakness already embedded deep within us. It primes us to look for the Third Person who’s been working steadily and unrelenting there all along: The Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is all of these things and more in the marriage of believers—toward both of you: Comforter. Advocate. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Prince of Peace. Convictor. Motivator. Teacher. Mind of God. Revealer of Truth. Helper. But I’ll choose just one, for those of us women who feel acutely the gaps within us that our husbands just cannot seem to fill.

Pastor and author Tim Keller observes, “You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love ‘in the bank’ to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.”

There are times, I need to admit, that I have looked to my husband to fill holes in me that the Third Person was meant to fill: God-sized holes, along the lines of power, comfort, approval, security. In short, I sometimes make my own husband…my idol.

Sylvester Stallone famously explains in Rocky, “I dunno, she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.” The reality: In marriage, he’s got gaps. I’ve got gaps. Together…we fill some gaps, but we’ve still got some the size of the Grand Canyon.

I’ve written before what the Holy Spirit looks like in a marriage. But we cannot miss this: It is not my husband who “completes me”. If the holes in me, as Blaise Pascal writes, are truly God-sized holes, then then the vacuum they create (when God’s not sought to fill them in) will suck my husband in—right along with everything else I’m convincing myself will make my life sing.

What does this practically look like? A few ideas.

  • Not demanding my husband’s admiration, affirmation, or approval to validate who I am or what I’ve done—to feel okay about myself. (Read more here about how my own insecurity affected/affects my marriage, and my slow steps out.)
  • Not requiring my husband to perform perfectly to achieve my affection. (Jesus loved me when I was His enemy. This is my model for loving my husband.)
  • Not seeking my husband to be my sole source of safety and security, or the resolution of everything I worry about. (Remember: Unless the Lord guards us, our safety measures are in vain.) When my husband is untrustworthy, I have a Husband who is always faithful, wise, and worthy of my trust.
  • Not manipulating my husband to get what I don’t feel like I’m getting from him.
  • Not freaking out when my husband fails as a father: God loves my children and is ultimately loving and sovereign over their care.

Most importantly, it looks like actively choosing to ground and establish myself in God’s love, “that…he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength…to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-18).

PS. If you are interested in attending our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, use the code “ForMyMarriage” for a $100 discount on the registration fee.

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12 thoughts on “The Third Person In Your Marriage”

  1. Janel, are you and your husband going to be speakers at a specific weekend to remember?
    Thank you for your authenticity in all that you write. I am always encouraged, blessed, challenged!

    1. Caryn, I’m so encouraged by your warm words today. Thanks for taking the time to let me know what God’s doing! We won’t be at the Weekend to Remember–but it’s been great every time we’ve gone. I hope you still get a chance to experience it if you haven’t already!

  2. I can read this article and on the one hand believe- great if I follow this my marriage will survive – yet on the other I feel – no I have loved my husband with every part of me, the good, the bad and the ugly and risked being rejected repeatedly by sharing my soul in truth and honesty with God at the centre being lead by the Holy Spirit. However I have always felt that my husband has had to force himself to love me, by ticking boxes. I felt in his spirit I just wasn’t there. He came first. His insecurities and low self worth drove him to marry me, knowing I love him am s I could heal his broken mess that he didn’t know he had and denied it if challenged yet blamed me for all his misdoings.
    I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me it wasn’t right but I believed all the Christians around me saying it was my past fears and insecurities that made me feel and think this way – so I went ahead with the marriage, too soon, within a atmosphere of being coersed, flattered, patronised and undermined to support my husbands need of wanting to be married and living together. I went against what I believed was the Holy Spirit and went for it.
    It has been a disaster. I have also been seen as the issue in the way it has been with some horrible judgements made against me. And now I have stepped away from those who said they would stand by us.

    I admit I am broken and always have been and have the scars to show however I have married a man who also has holes shrouded by a good Christian background who is needy, narcissistic and does not love me for the right motives in his heart. It’s been about him feeling better about him and I see that now and it all makes sense.
    So what do I do.
    I am divorcing him. We’ve been married 18 months and lived together for 7 of those months. I cannot go on even with the above teaching and many more.
    I know he cannot fulfil all my needs or heal all the brokenness and vice verse but surely I need to be in that inner part of his heart – the unity- oneness – honest and trust for any of this to work – and it is not so. It and cannot force the matter nor support him in how to love me anymore .
    Sad but true.
    I have done my best.
    In my vows I said
    I hope I can help him become the truer version of himself.
    However I never thought I would so seriously get the blame and brunt of it all in the process. It’s broken my heart and I’m strong but this has taken me to the brink yet again.
    My prayer is that he is broken by the Holy Spirit so that God can begin to heal him the way God needs to and to build him back up as an honest true man of God he claimed to be with integrity and honour putting God first and foremost in his life with Him buried deeply within his soul as his greatest friend and confident to become the truer version of the man I believed in Him to become but I’m afraid I won’t be on the receiving end of it all anymore.
    I’m upset and in shock that I went against what the Holy Spirit was saying and listened to humans instead leading to this mess. It turned me into a frightened woman in despair and anguish having believed all those falsehoods fed in niceness of good Christian church goers.

    1. Oh, my heart breaks to read this, and can only imagine what it’s like to live it. I’m simply praying for deep healing this morning. You are loved.

    2. Hi. My name is Bev and I was asked to reply on behalf of Barbara. I have been mentoring women online for several years, so I hope to offer you some biblical insight and helpful resources for your journey.

      First of all, I am very sorry to hear of the painful situation you are in. Unfortunately, many well-meaning people give some very bad advice, even Christians. Being married to someone who is narcissistic is difficult because they can never see anyone else but themselves. Here is an article on this type of personality: Responding to Narcissism in a Loved One

      You stated that you are and have always been broken, so I am assuming that you have had your share of pain in your past. This often shapes our personality to choose others that also have dysfunctional pasts. We try to rescue others while also needing rescuing. That’s called codependency. Whether there was an underlying need that drove you to this relationship, or you were not strong enough to say no to others, I believe that going through counseling would be beneficial. Here are a couple of ideas…

      If you would like to find a counselor, I would suggest contacting Focus on the Family. They staff professional counselors who offer a free one-time consultation and then give you a local referral. You can contact them here:

      There are many online counseling options as well. One of my favorites is Leslie Vernick’s site. She offers coaching and you can take classes together with other ladies. She has many free articles, videos, etc. and has written books on emotionally destructive relationships. Here is her site for more information: She has also been on FamilyLife Today if you want to look up her programs.

      You also mentioned that you were in the process of a divorce, so I would suggest Divorce Care for the healing process. They have a lot of free resources and you can search for a local support group if you are in the U.S. Here’s the link:

      I would also like to pray for you.

      Heavenly Father,
      I thank You for bringing this woman to our site. She is broken and hurting. I thank You that we can come boldly to Your throne of grace for mercy, grace and help in time of need. I ask that Your Holy Spirit continue the good work that you started in her. Heal and deliver her from the plans of the enemy to steal, kill and destroy. I thank You that You still have a good plan for her life and a hopeful future. I thank You that You are more than enough and that Your grace is sufficient to sustain her through this process. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

      Again, thank you for commenting and sharing with us.


      Bev Cooper

      1. I am interested in the article referred to here Responding to narcissism in a loved one, but it doen’t appear to have an active link. Can you tell where I can find it?

    3. Hi, I can very much understand your agony.
      But in all that I’ve read, I saw you were very very strong.
      Firstly I thank God because in all this mess,you didn’t forget to go the Lord. The rest ,God will take care .
      Pray before every decision you take, if you feel peaceful go ahead with your decision.
      And pls don’t take things to your heart too much because it’s all vain. If you don’t, your health also will be spoiled.
      There are people who have suffered even more than this. So just leave it to God ..
      I know what it takes to show love when you are not even considered as a partner in their life.
      But you are extremely loved by your heavenly father. This love washes away everything that you lack in your life.
      Just be strong.
      Praying for ya.


  3. I have been following your artucles and i must say they really change me…nomatter the subject am super blessed and excited to read more.

  4. Beautiful article.My husband and I have been separated for nearly two years and divorced for a few weeks. I know peace and love and joy like that which can only come from the Holy Spirit as I pray for my husband and I and our marriage reconciliation. The Holy Spirit is ever present now and will be as we walk into our future together with 3 in our marriage-God at the center.

    1. Darrel Tallmadge

      Praying for you and your husband.
      It is admirable that you are willing to sacrifice and wait on the Lord to bring restoration to your marriage.
      Thank you for sharing your heart

    2. Amy, I’m so thankful for your deep belief–and for the Holy Spirit’s kindness and intimacy–in what I can only imagine is an incredibly difficult time. May He continue to give you everything you need!

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