Getting married is a lot like starting a career, or entering a university degree program. It's relatively easy to begin, but it is almost guaranteed to be a challenge to stay with for the long term and make it a success. In my work as a marriage and family minister, I have seen a lot of marital and relationship discord. Having gone through a divorce myself, and now married for 20 years to my present wife, I can attest to the challenges and pain of marital relationships.
I have utilized these principles and insights in my pastoral counseling, and marriage ministry for the past thirteen years. We have taught them in our marriage classes, retreats and seminars. Through the use of these proven, practical ways of restoring a painful relationship, we have seen many couples resolve their conflicts successfully, and grow more deeply in love with each other than they had ever been before.
My wife, Sue, and I teach these principles and applications in our "New Beginning" and "Keeping Love Alive," Marriage Renewal Weekends. In this booklet we want to share with you important guidelines to help you get started on the process of healing your marriage.
Obviously, this article is not meant to take the place of extensive marriage counseling or the reading of more exhaustive marriage manuals. It is meant to help you get started in the right direction by providing you with an overview of the steps it will take to restore and rebuild your relationship:
1. Admit You Are Powerless
The first step in restoring your marriage is to admit that you cannot manage your marriage problems on your own. This means you recognize the ineffectiveness of your attempts to change yours, and your spouse's faults and character defects. You come to grips with the reality that you are fundamentally powerless to control or change your spouse, his or her character defects, and many of the things that happen in your life. You must come to the place where you are willing to admit that the strategies you have tried have not worked, and that every attempt you make to change or control your spouse fails. It means that you recognize that you are not in control but that GOD is, and that He must be the focus of your life; not you, not your spouse, not your career, not money, nor children, but GOD. It means that you must learn to leave your spouse in God's hands and trust Him to work on your mate. Remember that whatever condition your marriage is in, God is in business of performing miracles, transforming lives, and healing broken hearts.
"We saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for we put everything into the hands of God who alone could save us…2 Corinthians 1:9
Because we are powerless, we need to call on the power of the Holy Spirit in our marriage. We need power that is beyond us to overcome our sinful tendencies, and to enable us to be the husband and wife that God would have us to be. God provides this power through the person of the Holy Spirit. God, the Holy Spirit wants to help you succeed in your marriage.
The Holy Spirit is available to help every believing Christian. At the moment we receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives permanently to indwell us. Christ promises, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you" (Acts 1:8a).
The Holy Spirit is God with all the attributes only God can have. Not only is the Holy Spirit all-powerful, but like God the Father, and God the Son, He has a personality and we can come to know Him personally. He has feelings and can be grieved by our actions (Ephesians 4:30). He can be obeyed or disobeyed (Acts 10:19-20).
Because we have earthly models of fathers and sons, it is often easier to identify with and rely upon God the Father and Jesus. It is harder to identify with a spirit. Yet, in marriage we can't afford to miss out on the powerful ministry that the Holy Spirit offers.
As the Holy Spirit enters our lives, He works in us to produce a living fellowship between God and us. Of course, His work also affects the relationships we have with others around us, particularly our spouses and our children. Here are some of the works of the Holy Spirit that strongly impact our relationships:
- He gives us power to be Christ-like (Ephesians 3:16)
- He directs our lives on a daily basis (Romans 8:14)
- He convicts us of sin (John 16:8)
- He empowers us to fight sin in our lives (Galatians 5:15-16)
- He causes our marriages to glorify Christ (John 16:14)
- He produces the "fruit" of the spirit in our lives; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Consider these three steps that can lead your marriage toward a renewed sense of intimacy:
- Believe that God loves you and that He desires to walk with you in oneness through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Confess to God your utter dependency on the Holy Spirit for power. If there is any known sin in your life, confess it by agreeing with God that it is sin and is displeasing to Him;
Draw upon God's power by faith and obedience. Begin walking by the Spirit in your daily life.
2. Pray for Your Mate, Your Marriage and Yourself
Begin to pray everyday for your spouse. Believe God for a miracle in your marriage. Psalm 77:14 says, "You are the God who performs miracles." The Bible makes it clear that God wants people to stay married. We need to expect God to supernaturally intervene in our circumstances. Unbelief and fear paralyzes us and causes us to believe our problems are too big for God. We need to believe that God can still move mountains.
Jesus said, "According to your faith will it be done to you" (Matthew 9:29).
Stormie Omartian, in her book, The Power of a Praying Wife suggests praying this prayer for your marriage:
"Lord, I pray for an end to this conflict and a breaking of the hold strife has on us. Take away the hurt and the armor we've put on to protect ourselves. Lift us out of the pit of unforgiveness. Speak through us so that our words reflect Your love, peace, and reconciliation. Tear down this wall between us and teach us how to walk through it. Enable us to rise up from this paralysis and move into the healing and wholeness You have for us."
The Bible makes it clear that God wants people to stay married. When our vows are tested with sickness, poverty, or tough times, if we cry out to God, He hears us. During our darkest moments, the Psalms remind us God understands our situation and will help. In my marriage, the times that have been hardest have also been the times I've experienced God's rewards in the most amazing ways. Isaiah 64:4-5 says, "No eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right."
My marriage is undeniably better when I pray for my spouse. With this incentive, I've come to realize how important it is to pray for everything: simple blessings for God's mercy and peace in our home; complicated requests, such as how to communicate in a way Sue will understand; and even prayers I don't really want to pray-that I may recognize my sin, and that God will change me into the husband Sue needs. Prayer is your greatest and most powerful weapon in the struggle to maintain your marriage.
James 5:16 teaches us that "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results" Do you want to exert great power upon your mate's heart and mind? If so, then pray for your mate. Keep asking God to work in your mate and to touch your mate's heart, to soften the hardness, and to break Satan's blinding power in his or her life.
Do you want to see wonderful results in your marriage? If you do, then pray for your marriage. When Jesus healed a demon possessed man, He explained His method of setting people free from Satan's power: "How can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house" (Matthew 12:29).
If your mate or your marriage is to be rescued from the kingdom of darkness you must continually fight this battle in prayer. Jesus has given you authority over all the supernatural power of the enemy. "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (Luke 10:19). Your authority is not based on your power or ability, but on the powerful name of Jesus.
Hold your marriage up to God in prayer and ask the Father to heal your marriage, bring reconciliation and restore your love. Pray, and "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Never give up! Don't get discouraged if you don't see immediate results. Remember, God works according to his timing and not ours. You must simply do your part and leave the rest to Him.
Remember also to pray for yourself, that you may find the strength and courage for the path you are on today. David's counsel is absolutely essential for your endurance: "Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD" (Ps. 27:14).
3. Adjust your expectations
Most marriages encounter problems and conflicts sooner or later. Some marital problems and conflicts can be anticipated and avoided, others cannot be foreseen, and must be dealt with and resolved as they come. This takes the effort of both partners. Marital problems are complex and there are no easy answers, or quick solutions for most. If they have been occurring over a long period of time, the relationship may be at a point of crisis. A marriage crisis is very painful to go through, but that does not mean the relationship should be ended.
In fact when problems and conflicts are worked through, they can strengthen the love in a relationship and provide an opportunity for a couple to grow and learn, and move to a higher level of mutual satisfaction in their marriage. Relationship struggles often reveal that there are some things that we have not understood about our partner and vice versa. They often reflect the stock pile of unmet needs that have occurred. They may even indicate areas of neglect, misunderstanding and differences. They show us that there is work to be done in the relationship.
In unhappy relationships, the root cause of unhappiness is a lack of unconditional love and acceptance. Controlling, demanding and unrealistic expectations are just symptoms of that cause. When we stop seeing marriage as an obligation for our partner to fill our expectations, and instead see it as an opportunity to learn to truly accept our spouse for who he or she is, we take a major step in seeing our marriages become happy and fulfilling.
In his marriage research laboratory at the University of Washington, psychologist John Gottman has been studying married couples for more than twenty years. He has found that the most destructive characteristics in a relationship, what he calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, (1) criticism, (2) contempt, (3) defensiveness and (4) stonewalling. The first two traits suggest that one partner has a lot of trouble accepting the other one; the second two are typical reactions of not feeling accepted. The importance of acceptance has also been documented by other researchers who have found that an inability to accept differences is a leading predictor of failure in marriage.
Does acceptance mean you consider the other person to be perfect? Of course not. It does not mean that you think their personality is without flaw or that everything they do is perfectly okay with you. It does not mean that you don't want them to be better. Nobody is perfect, and people will always have qualities we don't like, characteristics we find annoying, and behavior that we wish they'd stop. Acceptance is not the same as agreement. Acceptance means that you recognize their essential worth, and consider them to be deserving of your esteem, and your love, despite their imperfections.
Needless to say, certain things are unacceptable. There are non-negotiable standards. Physical abuse is one of them. Repeated infidelity, alcoholism and drug addiction may also be unacceptable. Accepting behavior that crosses the line does not promote a healthy relationship, nor is it a mark of wisdom. But, short of putting up with what is truly intolerable, the capacity for acceptance - hard as it sometimes is to achieve - is an essential ingredient of true love and a lasting marriage.
4. Resist the Enemy
The source of all marital problems can be traced back to the Garden of Eden with creation's first married couple. Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that Adam and Eve lived in perfect union with God, and with each other. Without fear or shame, they instinctively delighted themselves in creation, in each other, and God. It was in essence a taste of Heaven on earth. God instructed them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). They were told that if they did, they would die. Then one day, something tragic happened. Suddenly, without warning, their world…their lives…their marriage, and hence ours, changed forever. Genesis 3 depicts exactly what happened and how it affected their relationship.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (Gen. 3:1-7)
Into the tranquil beauty of this innocent garden the enemy crept. Whispering to Adam and Eve - and hence to all of us - the serpent suggested, "You can't trust God…you've got to take matters into your own control… then you'll be like God." Adam looked on silently while his wife's doubt led to disobedience. Passively, yet willingly, her husband joined her in a definitive act of disobedience to their maker.
Satan is no impotent, imaginary character, but rather he is a present and real enemy who seeks the destruction of God's people, including their marriages and families. He attacked the first marriage, and he is still attacking marriages today. The problem is that many times couples get duped into fighting each other in their marriages, rather than fighting the real enemy. Your mate is not your enemy. Your real enemy is Satan and his evil forces. I once read a magazine article about conflict in marriage that said, "Marriage is the only war where you sleep with the enemy." But that's not true, your mate is not your enemy. It is important for you to know that. Your enemy is Satan, and he is the one who will do anything and everything in his power to destroy your marriage. Jesus described him as a thief, He said "The thief comes only to steal and to kill and destroy"(John 10:10a).
The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." Unfortunately, many believers do not take his existence or scriptural warnings and instructions about him seriously. We can be absolutely certain that the enemy will do everything in his power to "kill, steal, and destroy," first the joy and intimacy of your marriage, and then the very marriage and family unit itself.
2 Corinthians 2:11 tells that we should not let Satan take advantage of us by being ignorant of his schemes.
According to 2 Corinthians 11:3 we know that, Satan has the ability to attack us much the same way he attacked Adam and Eve:
"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3).
Satan corrupted Eve's thinking through deceitful suggestions. He tempted her to think that God was holding out on her, that God could not be trusted. Through suggestion, he caused her to doubt, and to think irrationally. He deceived her into thinking and believing that she should not depend on God, but should take matters into her own hands, instead of following God and His will for her life. Today Satan uses the same tactics, and tries to do the same thing to us. One of his chief tactics in your present circumstances will likely be to try to convince you that this situation is too big for God. That is a lie. Jesus said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:27). Nothing is too difficult for God.
Satan seeks to mess with our minds, cause us to doubt God's power and to distract us from following Christ. This is Satan's disguise. He seeks to perpetrate selfish and independent attitudes in man. He seeks to corrupt us through our thinking, to get us to exalt ourselves through selfish and independent actions and attitudes.
The undisciplined mind is vulnerable to satanic attacks designed to defeat us by causing wrongful thinking. To have the life and marriage God wants for us, we must be alert, deal with our enemy, refute his lies and think straight. James admonishes us, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). The apostle Paul admonishes us to bring every thought captive to obedience to Christ:
"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ"(2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV).
Our mind is the battlefield. Through deceit, and lies, the enemy tries to keep every believer from trusting, and walking with God. His typical method of attacking the thought life generally involves nothing more than well-timed suggestions. He knows our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and his carefully timed suggestions can bring dangerous results. Unless the enemy and his demonic allies are resisted, a believers mind will be like a city without walls, easily invaded by anything that happens to be around. Solomon describes this in Proverbs: "He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" (Proverbs 25:28).
The spiritual war for our marriages is won or lost on the battlefield of the mind. Until a person recognizes this and begins to take steps to resist the enemy, all other efforts to win the battle are futile. The Apostle John tells us, "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
5. Focus on Changing Yourself, Not Your Mate
"But if he would just change…then I'd feel so much more loved," wives often say to me. Similarly, husbands say, "If she would change… then I'd be happy." I believe there are few things more harmful to a relationship than pressuring your spouse to change. This kind of thinking just doesn't work, for two reasons: First, because you can't change someone else. You can only change yourself. Secondly, trying to change your spouse will create tension in your relationship and actually discourage him or her from changing. And besides, even if your spouse did change, he or she wouldn't feel very good about the relationship until you made some changes yourself.
Think about it. You don't like to be pressured, fixed, demanded upon, controlled, or manipulated to change, either. That's probably how your spouse feels if you're pressuring him or her to make the marriage better for your sake. Trying to change your spouse will likely cause him or her to feel anxious, angry, and discouraged, and to back away from you and resist you.
Developing a better marriage begins with being willing to examine your own part in your marriage troubles and become a better spouse yourself. It is absolutely crucial that you accept responsibility for your own mistakes in the relationship rather than blaming your spouse and demanding your spouse to change. Know that only God has the power to change your spouse. Learn to focus on what God wants you to do. Believe that you can improve, with God's help.
It's always easy to look at the other person and see how they've disappointed us, to see what they've done wrong in the marriage. Jesus said, "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye" (Matthew 7:3-4) ?
Be willing to look at yourself in the mirror instead of grabbing the microscope to look at your mate. Consider what habits, actions or words of yours have hurt your spouse and your marriage. Take responsibility for the mistakes you've made. Try to discover the bad patterns and habits you may have fallen into.
Most of us tend to deal with the pain and difficulties in our lives by coping, not by changing. We modify what we do, but somehow down deep at the core we have only partially dealt with it. Change, as Jesus describes it, involves more than just cleaning up our visible act. He intends us to do more than white wash the exterior of the house; He wants us to go inside and clean house and do something about the filth beneath the carpet.
What have you done or failed to do in this relationship that has contributed to the problems? How are you reacting to your mate? What are your weaknesses that need to be addressed? Are you willing to look within and find out? Are you willing to get real and be as honest as you possibly can? Until you face where you've missed the target, you can't get back on center.
Decide what specific changes need to be made in your life so that you can become a better marriage partner. Identify unhealthy patterns of behavior, and decide what you can do to change those patterns. The Bible is clear that while God loves us just the way we are, He loves us too much to leave us that way. One of His greatest desires for us is our growth and maturity; to conform us to the image of His son, (Romans 8:29).
This growth process involves change, and sometimes change comes through crisis, problems, setbacks, sin, mistakes and failure. The process of choosing to change involves us taking God's hand and following and trusting Him to shape and form us. He will never give us more than we can handle (I Corinthians 10:13). He can make all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28).
As a person who's studied human behavior and as a marriage and family minister who has studied relationships, one thing I've discovered about people is that most want to grow, but few want to change. Why? Because growth requires change, and change rarely comes without difficulty or pain. Change takes time, and energy. It requires the willingness to take an honest look at oneself with God's help, and the courage to face our deficiencies, weaknesses, fears and failures. It requires trusting oneself to God and believing that in the midst of the uncertainty God is faithful to perform a work inside of us. On our own we don't possess the power for long-term change. Sure, we can change for a time, but we lack the power to consistently pursue oneness like God intended. That's why God sent the Holy Spirit into the life of each believer, to give us the power to live out His plan for our lives.
We must see that because of our fallen nature, we have been unable to be the person and the mate that we need to be, and that God wants us to be. We are often sensitive, critical, defensive, angry, impatient, haughty, and self-willed. It is important to understand and remember that this is our natural disposition, and without God's grace, we will never be anything different. Only with God's help will we be able to stop negative, dysfunctional behavior.
It requires us to let go of old, dysfunctional ways of thinking and behaving, and to take risks, set goals, and rely on the Spirit of God to free us from strongholds, and empower us to "put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him"(Colossians 3:10). God wants to transform us through the renewing of our minds and give us new ways of thinking, interacting, responding and behaving, (Romans 8:31). Each of those things involves one very crucial element; the element of "choice." Change starts with a decision and is accomplished through ongoing "moments of decision," where we choose in that moment to think and act in a new and different way.
6. Reach Out For Support
Before the Apostle Paul laid out His divinely-inspired directions for Christian marriages and families in Ephesians 5:22-6:4, he grounded marriage and family in the Spirit-filled, worshipping community of God (Eph. 5:18-21): "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; submitting to one another in the fear of Christ"(Ephesians 5:22-33).
Successful Christian marriages are grounded in a Spirit-filled, worshipping community. Without the instruction, encouragement, equipping, and accountability found in the fellowship of the Church, a Christian marriage will die a slow and agonizing death.
Draw support from a church community. Identify people who care about you and your spouse. Ask them to pray for you, and mentor you as you work to reconcile.
Accept help from family, friends, your church staff, and others for whatever you need. Attend a weekly prayer group or Bible Study and begin to understand and apply Scripture to your life. Find a Christian person of the same sex who you can become accountable to. Be open and honest with those you are accountable to, but do not dishonor your spouse with your "sharing." Be open to Christian counseling to save your marriage. Establish a learning regimen. Remind yourself why you married your spouse in the first place, and why you've chosen to remain married thus far.
7. Reconcile with your mate
Jesus' work on the cross is the ultimate model of reconciliation. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Ask Him to guide you and work through you with His power as you strive to reconcile with your spouse. If either of you haven't yet begun a relationship with Jesus Christ, do so now. Surrender your life to Him and ask Him to forgive you of your sins. Accept His forgiveness, and begin to live for Him.
Ask God to make you aware of the ways you have hurt your mate and to give you humility to confess those hurts to Him, and your mate. Ask Him to give you the empathy for your spouse that you need to understand how those hurts have harmed your marriage. Listen to your partner's version of what's happened, without getting defensive. Consider how that knowledge can broaden your perspective on your relationship. Confess your wrongs specifically to God and your spouse. Decide to turn away from your sins and move in the opposite direction. Be willing to listen to your spouse express his or her hurt feelings. If there is a major hurt, and significant anger, this should be done with a Christian counselor.
Ben was a 39-year-old computer technician whose wife, Janet, confronted him about an affair he had three years ago. While counseling with them about the affair, Ben told me that when he listened to Janet cry or express her hurt feelings, that he would tell her he had confessed his wrong, and that now she just needed to get over it! He said,
"I knew she was in pain, but the fact that I was the source of the pain was gut-wrenching. So, sometimes I tried justifying the affair. I blamed her - which stopped the tears and turned on the yelling - and when that didn't work, I fell back on convenient excuses like, 'It's natural for men who are not getting enough sex at home."
"Well, none of this was true, and defending myself only made things worse. When I forced myself to listen to her; empathize with her and acknowledge her hurt feelings, as hard as it was, it helped her to heal. And going through that pain with her convinced me that I would never, ever in my life, no matter how great the temptation, cheat on Janet again."
"At one point, Janet told me that my affair caused her more pain than a miscarriage she'd had early in our marriage. I wanted to believe she was exaggerating - because that experience almost devastated her - but when I realized she was being honest, I broke down and wept myself. How could I have inflicted such incredible pain on someone I loved so much?"
It was difficult for Ben to listen empathically. But when he quit defending himself and was able to really listen to Janet, he was able to feel her pain. When he felt the magnitude of her pain, he repented of his wrong and asked for her forgiveness. As a result, their marriage was healed.
Once you have been forgiven, demonstrate your newfound integrity to your spouse in tangible ways (such as by keeping your promises). Embrace God's forgiveness and grace to do better.
In turn, choose to give the gift of forgiveness to your spouse. Remember how much God has forgiven you. Let your gratitude for that motivate you to forgive your spouse for all the ways he or she has hurt you. Rely on God's help to move through the process of forgiveness, trusting that He will make it possible for you to forgive.
Honestly, and objectively recall what happened to you. Explore the hurtful events from the wrongdoer's perspective. Consider your spouse's weaknesses that might have led to the wrongdoing. Someone has aptly said, "God takes great pleasure in meeting us more than halfway." For example, He tells us in Luke 17:5-6 that if we have faith even as small as a mustard seed, that tiny seed of faith will be rewarded by miracles in our lives. In the same way, as we become willing by faith, to forgive and make amends with our mates, and release them and ourselves from the bitterness we have carried, God is there, eager to encourage us and reward even our feeble attempts.
When we ask the Lord to help us let go of bitterness, judgement and condemnation, and began to release it to Him, we will soon be aware of remarkable changes taking place within us. The Holy Spirit will begin a wonderful work of healing in our lives, and we will be set free from the tyranny of our bitterness and resentment.
Whenever you remember the offense, remind yourself that you have chosen to forgive. Symbolize your act of forgiving with your partner in some way, such as by taking communion together or renewing your wedding vows.
8. Meet Your Spouse's Most Important Emotional Needs
As human beings, we are incredibly intricate with a complexity of emotional needs that must be satisfied. These needs include our needs for attention, respect, appreciation, approval, sexual fulfillment, support, comfort, security, etc., and determine our sense of emotional well-being. In marriage, our emotional needs were meant to be met both by our relationship with God and through our relationship with our spouse. That's precisely what God intended marriage to be; a committed, intimate, relationship that provides a supply of love to meet one another's most important emotional needs. To build a satisfying and lasting marriage, you and your mate must be committed to meeting each other's physical and emotional needs.
What's important to your spouse is probably different than what's important to you. People feel loved in different ways. Sharing feelings, being appreciated, special time together, affection, sex, thoughtful gifts, and shared activities are a few examples. Know your spouse's love language and be sure to use it often.
This is what love is; the constant choice to give to another. When we give of ourselves to meet our mate's most important needs, we create love. What often happens is we evaluate our relationship based on how it benefits us, the expectation being that our partner is here to give to us. This is not love. Love is about taking a quantum leap from being self-centered to other-centered. This means becoming a student of your spouse and learning what pleases him or her, and remembering what pleases him or her. It means sacrificing your own needs to meet those of your spouse.
Selfishness and love do not mix. Philippians 2:3-4 says, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."
Success in love is not about waiting to act until you feel like loving your spouse. Instead, even when you may not feel like it, when you reach out to your spouse with caring actions that meet his or her most important emotional needs, it will trigger the feeling of love in your spouse, and hence a cycle of love.
In order for a marriage to survive a crisis, it has to improve and become better than ever. Your efforts in this regard are to strive to meet all of your spouse's emotional needs. Ben says it took a long time to rebuild his marriage, but the results have amazed him.
"I have the world's greatest marriage. And I talk, laugh, and love more now then at the most passionate period of our dating."
"For months after the affair, I think the only two questions I asked Janet were, 'What can I do to make this up to you,' and, 'What do you need from me to know I love you more than anyone in the world?"
"It took a long time for her to answer me with anything other than, "YOU CAN'T," but eventually she gave me some ideas, and I ran with them. When she knew that I really meant it - that I would do anything and everything to make her happy - she started working with me on our marriage."
9. Rebuild Friendship and Trust
Trust is perhaps the most foundational ingredient in building an intimate relationship between husband and wife. It takes a very short time to destroy trust and a much longer time to rebuild it. Trust must be cultivated and nurtured. Rebuilding it requires that you consistently monitor your behavior, being very careful how you treat each other. This is the key to building a strong relationship, and trust.
One of the most common reactions to a marital crisis is the loss of hope. One or both spouses have typically been disappointed and become discouraged. He or she believes that there is no possible way to repair the relationship, and that even if they tried to stay together, that it would be impossible to ever trust again. In fact, this inability to even imagine trusting again can be one of the greatest threats to reconciliation and healing. What seems impossible is often never even attempted. The good news is that we have a God who loves us, and who is deeply committed to restoring us, and our relationships.
But, just how does one restore trust in a severely fractured marriage? First, you must understand that a multitude of hurts and disappointments occurred that eventually led to a crisis in the relationship. Most people focus on just one particular major climactical event that occurred. Yet, there were likely a number of problems occurring personally (and in the relationship) that contributed to it. This is not to excuse or justify any behavior, but to emphasize that healing the pain in the relationship will not simply ensure that the behavior doesn't happen again. True healing must focus on restoring the relationship and changing behaviors. Just as a marriage's downfall was a process, many steps are necessary to rebuild the marital relationship.
An individual's trust in God is the single most important factor in how he or she recovers. When trust is damaged, or destroyed, a person needs to be as dependent and trusting on our Heavenly Father as a small child would depend and trust on a loving earthly parent. In addition, anything blocking an open relationship with God must be dealt with. This includes: (1) facing and turning from one's own sins and personal shortcomings, (2) confessing these sins to God, and (3) asking forgiveness. Jesus reminds us to remove the log from our own eye before noticing the speck in another's (Matthew 7:3-5) .
Trust in God will be the foundation upon which you begin to develop trust in your spouse. Before trust can be restored in the relationship, there must be sense of confidence that you are secure. Your sense of confidence, and security is ultimately tied to your confidence in God. Psalm 112:7-8 says,
He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.
(New International Version)
Forgiveness cannot be disregarded if true recovery is desired. Restoring trust requires reconciliation. Taking adequate time, paying attention to detail, and receiving the objective help of a Christian counselor may be essential for the future of your relationship.
Sin gains its strength from secrecy. Reconciliation gains strength by bringing the secret sin to light. While rebuilding trust, a truly repentant spouse will show evidence by taking the initiative to restore trust in the marriage. The following is strong advice to a spouse who is sincere about repairing a damaged marriage:
- Prayerfully commit or recommit to the lordship of Christ in your life.
- If an affair was involved, break all ties with the affair partner, or, in the case of pornography or other addiction, put all necessary boundaries in place.
- Agree to the assistance of spiritual mentors and accountability partners.
- Commit to Christian counseling including sorting through the issues leading up to the crisis and making necessary changes.
- Take personal responsibility for the damage done to the spouse and family, without shifting blame.
- Allow your spouse the time necessary to heal without applying guilt or added stress.
- Disclose secrets that are blocking intimacy with your spouse in the presence of a pastor or counselor.
- Create a covenant of trustworthiness with your partner that lists important ways you each will be faithful to one another.
Set aside time each week to be with your spouse. Go out for coffee or a meal in order to build communication skills.
Make a list of your values and plan for how you will hold onto them during stressful times in the future. Hold up your end of the bargain even if your spouse slips. 19
These steps are necessary to prepare the ground for trust to grow again. A spouse's dedication, transparency, and honesty will serve as vital nutrients to enrich this soil. Constant prayer will water the soil, and in time, trust will grow again. As you go forward in the healing process, know that you'll have good days and bad days. You'll experience progress as well as setbacks. This process is never easy for either partner. But it will be the most worthwhile process you have ever undertaken. You will learn and you will grow.
Remember, God is for you and He can see beyond the present, when you cannot. He is good all the time, even when your marriage and life seem to be falling apart. Trust in Him to make a way for you.
Pray daily, and ask Him to help you see your spouse and your relationship through His eyes. Ask Him for spiritual discernment and wisdom and it will be provided. Trust in God's promise in James 1:5: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him" (RSV).
10. Seek Immediate Help
The complexity, stress and pain of a marriage crisis often handicaps a couple's ability to resourcefully resolve problems on their own. For several reasons, it is important to get help as soon as possible after you realize that your marriage is in crisis. First of all, so that further damage can be controlled. A marriage crisis can have a negative domino effect and intervention is commonly required in order to alter the negative course. Secondly, because a marriage crisis puts your relationship in a very vulnerable position.
Right now, what the two of you probably need most is a sense of hope, empowerment and forward progress that can come from outside help and guidance. Thirdly, you need to seek immediate help because the longer you wait, the more difficult it will likely be to save your marriage. A marriage crisis needs to be treated as an emergency, marriage 911 situation because the very life of the relationship is at risk. As in any emergency, it is important to act right away to get the professional help you need.
It amazes me that most people decide to end their marriages without seeking professional help. A small percentage of people on the brink of divorce consult marriage counselors or marriage ministers. That's why I want to offer some guidelines for you to consider to assist you in seeking professional help to improve your marriage.
(1) Make sure your counselor is a Christian marriage counselor and has received specific training (Biblical, Pastoral, and or Marital training) and is experienced in marital counseling. Marriage counselors need to be skilled at helping people overcome the differences that naturally occur when two people live under the same roof. They need to know Biblical truth and have a thorough understanding of God's design for marriage. For this reason, don't be shy. Ask your counselor about his or her training and experience.
(2) Make sure that your counselor is a Christian, and a Biblical counselor. Make sure that he or she is biased in the direction of helping you find solutions to your marital problems rather than helping you leave your marriage when things get rocky. Feel free to ask him or her to give you a ballpark figure about the percentage of couples he or she works with who leave with their marriages intact and are happier as a result of counseling. Although your counselor may not have a specific answer, his or her reaction to your question will speak volumes.
(3) The counselor's own values about relationships definitely plays a part in what he or she does and is interested in when working with you. Although some people want their counselors to tell when a person should stop trying to work on their marriage, counselors really don't have this right. If they say things like, "It seems that you are incompatible," or "Why are you willing to put up with this?" or "It is time to move on with your life," they are simply imposing their non-biblical values on you. This is an unethical act, in my opinion.
(4) Make sure you (and your partner) and your marriage counselor set concrete goals early on. If you don't, you will probably meet each week with no clear direction. Once you set goals, you should never lose sight of them. If you don't begin to see some progress within two or three sessions, you should address your concern with your counselor.
(5) Know that most marital problems are can be worked through. Don't let any marriage counselor tell you that change is impossible. Human beings are amazing, and they are capable (especially with God's help) of making significant and lasting changes, especially for people they love.
Most of all, trust your instincts. If your counselor is helping, you'll know it. If he or she isn't, you'll know that too. Don't stay with a counselor who is just helping you tread water. Find one who will help you swim.
(6) Finally, the best way to find a good Christian marriage counselor is word-of-mouth. Satisfied customers say a lot about the kind of marriage counseling you will receive. Although you might feel embarrassed to ask a minister, friends or family for a referral, you should consider doing it anyway. It increases the odds you'll find a counselor who will really help you. and your spouse. There's a lot to be gained from seeking the advice of a third party who can help you find simple solutions to life's complicated problems. May God be with you as you seek that higher route.