The only marriages that don’t struggle are the ones we make up in our minds. Nearly twenty years of both my own marriage and ministering to others has taught me that. Things will get hard – the question is how you respond. Will you just hope it will pass? Blame the other person? Suffer through it? Prepare to leave?
Like everything else in life, our marriages can only survive and thrive by the power of the Holy Spirit. Marriage is intended to be a reflection of Christ and the Church, and so you better believe he is eager to help us when we struggle.
With this is mind, here are seven strategies to work on when your marriage is in a hard place:
- Assume the Best: When things get hard, we tend to assume the worst, reading negativity into the words and body language of our spouse. Don’t assume you know your spouse’s motives. Ask them if you are hurt or confused. Posture yourselves as friends, not enemies. Friends trust each other.
- Value Each Other: Only God can fulfill you and complete you in the ultimate sense, but he gives us a spouse for a reason. Our spouses complement us, to fill in our weaknesses, to make us stronger. Don’t diminish the spouse God has given you. Value how the other person serves and contributes to the marriage and family. And if you need something more from them, ask graciously. Your spouse is your God-given partner and you need each other.
- Recognize Differing Perspectives: In all my years of ministry, I’ve never stopped being surprised at how differently two people can recount a conversation or situation. The reality is that we all see things from our own unique perspective. Personality, subjective experience, selective memory, all play a part. We may see things how we see them, but don’t assume you’re right and your spouse is wrong. Be humble, gracious, and respectful enough to validate their perspective.
- Engage in Healthy Conflict: Every relationship and every marriage has conflict. Often unhealthy patterns of conflict develop over years. Keep in mind that extreme, absolute statements or accusations are rarely true, and never helpful. When emotions are running high, it is easy to fall into angry outbursts, foul language, sarcastic jabs, demeaning tones, and hurtful insults. But these are poisonous and destructive. If you belong to God, then you must seek his grace to reflect him in how you work through conflict. When you fail, repent, ask for forgiveness, and seek God for help.
- Unconditionally Love and Serve: We all tend to love and serve to get something out of it. Selfishness is the nature of sin. And when our marriages struggle, this instinct becomes heightened. But, keeping track of who is giving more to the marriage or family will crush the relationship. We’ve got to be purposeful to give the same unconditional love to our spouse that we have received from God. Serve without expecting to be repaid.
- Forgive As You Have Been Forgiven: Marriages often struggle because one or both spouses are carrying unforgiveness. Whether it is something from years ago, days ago, or hours ago, carrying around a hurt will crush you and erode a marriage. Real forgiveness is incredibly difficult and can only truly happen as an overflow of God’s forgiveness. For Christians, forgiveness is a command and an expectation in light of God’s forgiveness to us. Forgiveness is not saying, “How I was hurt doesn’t matter and I’ll act like it didn’t happen.” Forgiveness says, “I was hurt, and it’s such a big deal that I can’t deal with it. I will give it to God, let it go, and trust him to deal with it so I can be free.”
- Lean into Christ: A good marriage can not happen without each person individually, and the two of you together, pressing into Christ. We fail every day. We need a Savior. Only the love and grace of God can enable us to live out the kind of love we’re talking about. We need the guidance, correction, and encouragement of his Word. We need the power and presence of his Spirit. Remember, our marriages are ultimately about reflecting Christ and his Church. Lean in.