If leaving isn't the answer, what is? God wants the best for us, which means he wants us to live in obedience to His ways. God doesn't guarantee our happiness. Jesus is a great example of this. Was he always happy while he was on this earth? Whenever we're in a tough situation and catch ourselves thinking we deserve to be happier, it can be helpful to remember how Christ died on the cross for the express purpose of taking the punishment I really deserved, in order to forgive me and give me a better life.
God's plan for marriage does not come with a permanently refillable prescription for thrills and feel-good. It is not a game plan designed to produce soul mates whose main objective is personal fulfillment and happiness. His plan is based on His goal of transforming His people into the likeness of Christ. What people often discover is that once they choose to stay with His plan through the difficulties of life, personal fulfillment often comes as a by-product of obedience and willingness to fit into God' plan.
Some confused people of ancient times, eager to take advantage of the fine print in their marriage vows, once asked Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
Jesus chose not to get bogged down in technicalities, and pointed to the grand purpose and design of marriage. "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate'" (Matthew 19:5).
In Malachi 2:16 God tells us what He thinks about dissolving a marriage: "I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel." Our creator, God, loves us and cares for us. That's why He hates divorce. He loves us so much that He hates divorce because of what it can do to us. God wants what's best for you, that's why He wants you to stay married. He wants you to stay married, but He wants to help you turn an unhappy marriage into a happy one.
For years, divorce has been recommended as the best remedy for an unhappy marriage. But a recent study suggests the idea that "they got divorced and lived happily ever after" is a mere fairy tale ending. People who divorce are not, on average, more happy than spouses who stay in difficult marriages, researchers say in the study, released by the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan think tank based in New York. According to the researchers, most spouses who stick with difficult marriages are much happier five years later.
The study, conducted by a research team based at the University of Chicago, suggests there is a significant difference between those unhappy people who choose to remain in their marriages, and those who decide to divorce. The researchers looked at data on more than 5,000 adults. Here's what they found out about those who were divorced:
Divorce didn't reduce symptoms of depression.
Divorce didn't raise self-esteem.
Divorce didn't increase their sense of "mastery" (being in control of their own lives).
Only about half of them were happy five years after the divorce.
Here's what they found out about those unhappy people who stayed in their marriages.
Things often improved with time.
Spouses who stayed together often actively worked on problem solving, communication and behavior patterns.
Individuals worked at improving their own personal life skills. Apparently that had a positive effect on their marriages.
Two thirds of them were happy five years later.
"Divorce is not a clear and obvious solution for an unhappy marriage," said syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher, a scholar at the Institute for American Values and co-author of the report, "Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings From a Study of Unhappy Marriages."
The truth about divorce: It doesn't bring happiness. In fact, in most cases, divorce creates more problems than it solves. I've talked to lots of people who have been divorced for five, ten, many even fifteen years or longer with wounds that just won't heal. Like me, they failed to anticipate the pain and turmoil that divorce leaves in its wake. I've heard numerous divorced people say that they still struggle deeply with the same old issues that they thought they were leaving behind when they got their divorce. They learned too late that you don't really leave your problems behind, but instead you end up taking them with you into the next relationship.
I've heard many disillusioned divorced individuals express regrets about their belief that their ex-spouse was the problem, only to discover similar problems in their second marriages or even more surprisingly, in their new single lives. They admit that their unproductive patterns of interacting, and the old habits they developed over the years are re-created in their new relationships, and they are still unhappy.
After Sue, my present wife and I had been dating for two years, and were getting serious about each other, we started talking about the possibility of a future together. We realized that we were having some difficult problems in our relationship, but we loved each other. Because we each had come from failed relationships, neither of us had any confidence that we could make a marriage work. Though we knew we wanted to spend our lives together, we were each overwhelmed with the idea of making a marriage work. She felt overwhelmed with the reality of not knowing how to be a good wife to me, and I felt overwhelmed with the reality of not knowing how to be a good husband to her. Neither of us felt we had the skills and "know-how" that it would take to succeed in building a strong, healthy marriage.
We also recognized that each of us had some baggage from our past. We had each been in Christian counseling and knew that we had some issues in our lives and some patterns of relating that were hindering our relationship. We came to the realization that in order to have a successful marriage, we would each have to deal with our issues, and make some changes from the way we had previously related. It became obvious that we couldn't just keep on communicating in the same old unhealthy dysfunctional ways. We knew that without God's help, some new skills, and a workable plan, our marriage too, would be doomed to failure. For me, this realization was a stark contrast to the haughty arrogance and chauvinism that had characterized my life up until this time. We both had the willingness and desire to learn.
We embarked upon a personal quest to learn how to have a healthy relationship, and build a strong marriage that would last. At this point, God began to do a work in us, bringing humility and truth into our hearts and our relationship, preparing us to learn what He was about to teach us.
My Masters degree in Behavioral Science and my background in counseling, complimented our quest, although it didn't provide the real answers that we needed to make significant, lasting changes. In pursuit of the truth about what it takes to make a marriage work, we found that much of the conventional wisdom falls short. In search of a better way, we attended three different Christian marriage counseling programs, and diligently pursued marriage preparation counseling. Even after we were married, we continued in marriage counseling and kept reading and studying relationship books. We also attended more than a dozen marriage seminars and courses within a five year period.
On our journey, we eliminated many of the things that didn't work, and most importantly we made a series of life-changing discoveries that were astonishingly simple and effective. The most significant discovery made, and one which led to the discovery of so many other priceless ones, was that God is the final authority on love, intimacy and marriage. We discovered that His plan includes vital principles, wisdom and practices necessary to establish love and intimacy and build a healthy, fulfilling marriage.
We also came to the realization that building a healthy love life, and a happy marriage was not something we could achieve on our own. We discovered that only God could provide us with the essential inner motivation, and resources we needed to achieve it. We knew that was a must, and so we asked Him to show us the way, and we set out to appropriate His resources and put His plan to work in our relationship.
Though I made these discoveries too late to save my first marriage, if I hadn't found them, I am certain that my present marriage would be in dismal trouble today. Sue and I both would probably have given up long ago. We'd be just another statistic added to the seventy percent of all second marriages that end in separation and divorce. But instead, the answers we found hold the keys, not only to rebuilding a dysfunctional relationship, overcoming insurmountable problems, healing a relationship, and restoring love, but they are also the very keys to building and sustaining a vital, relationship.
For us, the best thing about discovering these timeless principles and applying these answers is that it has empowered us to handle our problems, and deal with our differences and difficulties. Today, even with three young children, not only are we deeply in love, but we also understand how to stay in love. Even as we walk through life's seasons and challenges, we now know that we can sustain a truly loving and more satisfying relationship than we could have ever imagined possible.
The next best thing about making these discoveries is that it has enabled us to help hundreds of other couples to overcome their problems, and achieve love and happiness in their marriages as well. Experiencing the devastating consequences of divorce made me a believer in the sanctity of marriage. Discovering God's design for marriage, I became a zealot for marriage. Coming to the realization that the pain of divorce is not only temporary, I became determined to help couples solve their problems and keep their marriages together.
Sue and I actively pursued specialized training in three proven marriage education programs. While we continued attending marriage counseling and working on our own marriage, we also volunteered in our church to meet one-on-one with other couples to teach them what we were learning. We began to focus all our energies on helping couples discover better ways to love and relate to each other, and enrich their relationships.
We studied Intimacy Therapy at the Center for Marriage & Family Intimacy. We also received extensive training and became certified in several Biblical, marriage, and family programs. We soon began coaching individuals and couples, and conducting marriage retreats, and seminars. Through years of study, and trial and error, we learned what it takes to help couples heal their relationships, and how to help them rediscover their love and keep their marriages strong.
Certainly, there is a demonstrated need for people to learn what it takes to keep their marriages and families together. Half the marriages in this country end in divorce. Two out of three children will spend part of their growing-up years being raised in a single-parent home. I believe those statistics provide overwhelming evidence that something's missing in marriages and families today.
As a marriage and family pastor, and the co-founder and director of a successful marriage and family ministry over the last thirteen years, my focus has been helping couples rediscover their love, overcome barriers, and build better relationships. I'm convinced that, unless you are in a physically abusive relationship and your spouse is unwilling to change, you are better off working through your problems than getting out. Because of my conviction, I've devoted myself to doing everything I can to help people like you keep your marriage together and make it work.
Yes, divorce is a painful, heartrending experience, but so is living in a miserable marriage. And I agree, life is too short to be miserable. The good news is that even if your relationship is in severe trouble, regardless of how unloving your marriage feels now, and as impossible as it may seem, you can still turn the direction of your marital journey around. Despite the pain you are feeling and the problems you may be facing today, you can stop the downward spiral of negative actions and reactions that can destroy a marriage. You can open the door not only to regaining the love you once had, but also to discovering a more loving, fulfilling marriage than you have ever known before.
I've literally seen miracles happen with couples who didn't seem to stand a chance. I can say with confidence, that with God's help the greatest marital heartbreak, even including adultery, can be overcome, and God can turn around the bad and use it for good.
Over the years, we've worked with countless couples on their marriages. Usually by the time we see them it's often their last cry for help before separation or divorce. It's a sad state of affairs to see a couple who's come to the end of their rope and feel there's nothing left to do but call it quits. Without a doubt there are few things in life more disheartening.
That's how it was with Jim and Chris. After dating for over a year they were married. Chris reminisces about their dating days and the good times, "I especially remember the candlelight dinners that Jim treated me to. When we were dating we always went to church together," she says.
But apparent problems began to develop early on in their relationship. Not that it's that unusual for couples to encounter problems early on in a marriage. In fact, most couples do run into some difficulties the first year of marriage. Like others, Jim and Chris encountered the typical range of marital problems. Jim was working long hours in the auto business. Chris was in school, and had a baby on the way. Soon, along came another child, a mortgage, bills and careers, and with each came increasing demands on their resources and time. But, there were other complicating factors that ultimately led to the demise of their love and marriage.
"Unfortunately," says Chris, "just after we got married we got so busy that we eventually quit going to church and our active spiritual lives went downhill." Subsequently, their relationship took a downward spiral and eventually spun out of control. As the years came and went, many of their problems, conflicts and issues were left unresolved. Dreams were hampered by harsh realities. Tensions mounted, and stress started taking its toll.
Jim said that he often dreaded coming home after work because of the constant tension and hostility. He felt shut out by Chris. He frequently chose instead to go out socializing and drinking with his co-workers and friends.
Chris recalls how she felt so empty, disappointed, angry and all alone. She admits, "After living like that for so long, I became very resentful and difficult to live with." Their marriage became further complicated when Chris, empty and desperate for acceptance, resorted to having two affairs.
Jim says, "Our marriage became characterized by deceit, unfaithfulness and hostility." That year Jim was recruited to a new position and they moved to Houston. He recalls that they were leading separate lives and their relationship continued to deteriorate. "We were disconnected and disgruntled," Jim says, "Basically just coexisting under the same roof with no intimacy, just surviving, living in our own worlds."
Chris says, "I became so resentful toward him that I began subtly undermining his authority with the children." Her anger turned to resentment, and her resentment turned to bitterness, and eventually her bitterness into years of apathy. Chris says that she eventually became ambiguous in her feelings for Jim. Unresolved issues, and painful events of the past had eroded the relationship to a point of despair.
After eighteen years of marriage, and with two children, their marriage was in shambles. In the end Jim says, "Distrust destroyed our relationship. In spite of my adamant beliefs against divorce, I saw no hope for our marriage. There was nothing left but to leave and move on with our separate lives. I knew that our marriage was over." Disgusted and discouraged Jim willingly moved out.
Chris was devastated, and the night that he moved out she turned to the Lord for His saving grace. She prayed, "Lord, I've fouled up my life trying to do it my way, so I'm turning it over to you for your way." During this time, Chris started attending church regularly, and sought help from a counselor.
During their 2½-year separation, Jim started noticing a sincere change in Chris, even though he still wanted to proceed with a divorce. "She was becoming a much kinder, and more compassionate person. Then one day," he says, "I called and asked her if she would consider a mutual dialogue of reconciliation." Chris thought it through and told Jim that she would be willing. "But," she said emphatically, "I truly believe that we can't do it without God's help." Jim agreed.
Just days earlier Chris had heard on radio about one of Cornerstones' New Beginning, Marriage Renewal Weekends. She told Jim about it and they attended in March. What happened to them at the weekend changed their lives. "Most importantly," Chris says, "We were able to talk through things and forgive each other for the years of pain and the hurts we had caused one another."
"Most significant for me," Jim says "was realizing that I needed to put God first in my life regardless of what was happening in my marriage."
After the weekend, Jim and Chris diligently worked at applying the Biblical principles they had learned A few months later, they moved back in together and I had the privilege of conducting a ceremony for the renewal of their wedding vows. Jim and Chris, like many others we know, experienced a new beginning. It's obvious that their new marriage is one characterized by love, caring and understanding. Sure, like every couple, they will always encounter snags, challenges and difficulties along the way. But they now have the tools to work through the difficulties. They know that "With God, all things are possible."
If you, or someone you love, has ever been in a troubled marriage and seen it get turned around, then you know just how incredible it is. To see an estranged couple whose love gets rekindled, and their marriage restored, there are few things in life more thrilling! And, to see them by the grace of God, come out on the other side of their crisis together, in harmony, is amazing.
You may feel beaten down by the disappointments in your marriage. The fabric of your relationship may be marred by deep, ugly, scars. You may think it's over. That's where God, and the strength of your vows can carry you through the tough times you're facing. You can get through this dark period, and rediscover your love again.
I have spent considerable time researching the conventional advice on marriage given in our culture. Some advice I have found helpful. Some I have found questionable, and some downright absurd. However, the more serious research done on marital relationships confirms one important fact. A person's best hope for experiencing happiness and fulfillment in marriage is to stay with the same partner for a lifetime.
I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who observed, "The only way out is through." There is no easy way out of the difficulties and tough times you may be facing presently. But there is a way through, a way that leads to greater contentment and happiness.
There is a way to save your marriage from the downward spiral leading toward divorce. Whatever your situation, once you make the decision to avoid divorce at any cost, then you are ready to begin focusing on the goal of repairing your marriage by using the principles outlined in this booklet that have helped to save literally hundreds of marriages.
Even if you fight constantly, struggle with lies, jealousy adultery, addictions, abuse or a past affair - with God's help your relationship can be transformed and you can bring the love, trust, hope and happiness back into your marriage.
The mission of Cornerstone is to effectively restore and strengthen marriages and equip couples to build their marriages on the foundation of Jesus Christ, according to His plan and to reach out to others and help them do likewise.
Cornerstone partners with churches to build strong, healthy marriages and families through Christ-centered, biblical teaching, and counseling. We train couples to minister in their church with biblically sound marriage and family ministry tools.
1. Cornerstone partners with churches to help raise up lay leadership couples who will carry out an ongoing marriage and family ministry in their churches.
2. Cornerstone equips churches with biblical, and practical ways for changing families for good. With biblical, powerful, state-of-the-art tools, churches have the ability to reach outsiders, as well as to edify the members of their body.
You can obtain additional information and resources by writing or calling us at:
Cornerstone Marriage & Family Ministries
15427 Woodland Orchard Lane
Cypress, TX 77433
Our web address is: www.marriageministry.org.
About the Author
Roy Milam, is founder and President of Cornerstone Marriage & Family Ministries. Roy and his wife Sue Milam have worked together in marriage ministry since 1992.
Roy has over 20 years of combined Pastoral Ministry, Career Counseling, Marriage Coaching, and Training & Development experience. He has led seminars throughout the U.S. helping thousands of people reach their God-given potential in their careers and marriages.
He holds a B.A. Degree in Biblical Studies from the University of Corpus Christi. He also attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and earned his Masters degree in Behavioral Science, from the University of Houston, Clear Lake.
Sue is a graduate of Central Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. She devotes her time to her home, her family and to marriage ministry. The Milams live in Cypress, Texas with their children Joshua, Stephen and Laura.
Roy and Sue are committed to strengthening marriages and families by equipping couples to build their homes and lives according to God's plan. They have shared with hundreds of couples a message of hope and healing - equipping many with marriage enrichment and marriage ministry skills - practical tools for every day use.