May 19, 2014

What To Do When Your Marriage Doesn't Work

Photo Credit: Brook Mosser
I hear often from discouraged husbands and wives who say their marriage simply does not work. They feel they have tried everything – even love and respect – and it didn't work. They are ready to give up.

If this describes you, are you willing to try a new approach

But my spouse doesn't respond!

What is your worst fear in marriage? Is it that you will do all you can to love and respect unconditionally but your spouse will not respond? If so, you are not alone in that fear. After all, it takes two, right? And if your spouse has already given up, there is nothing left to do.

Technically, that may be true. If one partner has determined in their heart that nothing…NOTHING…is going to change his/her mind and they are hell-bent on pursuing their own selfish ends, such a marriage might not be saved. People do betray, like Judas betrayed Jesus. That’s why adultery is so destructive. Infidelity betrays.

On the other hand, who truly knows a person’s heart but God? An angry, hurt person may do things they truly don’t want to do in their deepest heart. Though the person appears hardened, they may be protecting their real feelings. Thus, what seems hopeless is not hopeless to God. The Lord sees underneath. He sees this person’s feelings of insecurity and insignificance.

So what can you do?

First of all, if you feel fear and hopelessness taking over, pray against this fear. 1 Peter 3:6 tells us to do what is right without being frightened by any fear. If you aren’t sure how to pray about this, go to a Pastor of a Bible believing church and ask him to pray with you.

Secondly, don’t give up! Things don’t change overnight. Don’t think that when you try a new approach, such as unconditional love and respect, that your spouse will respond immediately. For example, if trust has been broken, it will take time to rebuild the trust.

Let me add, I am not saying that you should stay in an abusive situation where you or your children are in danger! That is another issue entirely. I am also not telling you to roll over and ignore sin. To read what I have to say about abuse and sinful behavior, click here.

Things may get worse before they get better.

In some cases things appear to get worse when love and respect is applied. The receiving spouse is skeptical and even angry that his/her spouse is switching behavior and then expecting immediate forgiveness for all the past pain. Or he/she is afraid to believe in the change for fear of being let down and hurt even more.

Be honest. If your spouse has hurt you for 5, 10, 15 years and then suddenly changes his/her behavior, would you trust that he/she has changed overnight? Or even in a month? Probably not.

May I challenge you even further? In those cases when you feel unconditional love or unconditional respect has failed to impact your spouse, can you honestly say you were consistent in your behavior? I am not suggesting perfection…none of us can do this perfectly! But think of it this way: are you consistently making more loving and respectful deposits than unloving and disrespectful withdrawals?

Admit when you fail.

Learning new ways of responding (and not reacting) is hard work. Old habits die hard, and they often flare up when we least expect them to…like rolling the eyes or mumbling “whatever” under our breath. But these old habits can be the death blow to your spouse who may use it as proof that you haven’t changed at all. So when you fail...and you will fail...admit it to your spouse, and try, try again. Make some more deposits. Over the long haul, your spouse will recognize your efforts but you must stay the course.

There is no IF.

When you love or respect unconditionally, you are following God and His will for you. Ultimately, your spouse and your marriage have nothing to do with that decision.

I know that sounds crazy! But hear me out. The command in Ephesians 5:33 does not say “Love your wife IF she respects you.” Nor does it say, “Respect your husband IF he loves you.” When you obey the command in Ephesians 5:33 to love your wife or respect your husband, you are simply demonstrating your obedience and trust in the face of an unlovable wife or a disrespectable husband.

Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:46). Jesus could have had your troubled marriage in mind when He said that.

Everything you do counts.

I believe Paul also had your marriage in mind when he penned Ephesians 6:7-8: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free” (NIV). Paul is saying that whatever we do as to the Lord we will receive back from the Lord. In marriage, everything you do counts, even if your spouse ignores you or does not love and respect you in return.

Live the Rewarded Cycle.

Unconditional love and unconditional respect will be rewarded. I call this the Rewarded Cycle. His Love Blesses Regardless of Her Respect; Her Respect Blesses Regardless of His Love.

If you are feeling alone in your marriage, and your spouse is not responding to your efforts, will you allow this to encourage you? You are not alone. Your efforts to love and respect unconditionally are not going unnoticed by God! He is for you and He WILL honor you for your obedience.

Will you begin to live in the Rewarded Cycle starting today?



Anonymous said...

Not everyone gives up for selfish reasons....years of abuse can tear a person down past the point of saving the marriage. The destruction becomes to great to is not selfish to give up in those extreme situations, it is sometimes vital for that person's health and well being. Christians need to understand what abuse is and how deeply it affects a person. God would not want someone to continue to suffer at the hands of a spouse for the sake of their vows.

That being said, there are way too many people divorcing for petty, selfish reasons. We just need to do our part to realize that not ALL situations are for selfish reasons..there are people truly suffering.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above. And verbal/emotional abuse is just as destructive as physical. More times than not I feel like an enabler instead of a respectful wife. I love and respect and trust my husband only to be talked to like I'm an idiot, or lied to because he doesn't want to tell me certain things. And occasionally the condemning tone of voice cuts very deep. This from a man that claims to love and know God, acts completely different in front of church people or socially. Yes, I love my the grace of God I am still holding on after almost 16 years of marriage...and a stepfamily situation as well. Thank you for the Love & Respect book, it is a great resource. I love God and trust Him completely.

Anonymous said...

Thank you anonymous.....well said... this is a BIGGER (huge) problem than anyone in the church would admit!!!

Anonymous said...

It is important to remember that abuse often goes both ways and that many Christians tend to focus on the speck in another's eye before they look at the log in their own. Abuse is often reason for a separation but rarely for a divorce unless an abuser is unrepentant and unwilling to seek help.

Anonymous said...

So define "Abuse" I have seen it described for some it is when there is a disagreement that does not go their way others may say it is verbal because he /she yelled at me. I believe if one's character is being assaulted by name calling and demeaning that is dangerous. We must look at each situation in Light Of The Cross which we are called to Take Up And Carry Daily even if it hurts our pride and sense of well being and "self esteem" marriage or not. I know in today's America that is not a popular message but it is the reality of living out the true gospel.

Anonymous said...

Abuse is a whole other thing. I don't believe that is what this article is addressing, but rather marriage problems that don't involve abuse, whether emotional or physical. I've been there, and it is the reason I finally ended my first marriage. There was no other way since my husband would not face his anger and resentments and would not do anything to change. I stayed with him 18 years, some of which were not horrid, some of which were, and most of which were a struggle due to emotional and physical abuse. The concepts of the Love And Respect program work because it is Biblical. So, if there is no abuse and even if one person wants out, the other person can certainly do whatever it takes to make it work. It is much the same as The Love Dare that was the subject of the movie, Fireproof. It IS possible to turn things around, but it takes DEDICATION and a focus on how God wants us to look at things…to die to self and put the other person first, hard to do, for sure.

Alice Mangan said...

Wow. Exactly my story.

dtbdmentors said...

Great article!

Very well written. I fully agree with our need to follow these scriptures. Easy? NO…….rewarding? YES.

As far as abuse goes….yes…that is tough to handle and there are extreme cases where you may need outside help to determine how to handle however, in many cases i interviewed the person claiming to be 'emotionally and verbally abused'. In my interview i discovered their spouse was yelling, cursing, name calling, negative posturing, and at times out of control. I then asked the 'abused' person this question: "When in the heat of battle or "crazy cycle", are you by chance cursing? Yelling? Calling names? Posturing? Threatening?"

In most cases the answer was YES.

What does this mean?

Truth, when we are wounded, angry or mad….we are all guilty of "abusing" those we love. Verbally or emotionally. True there are extremes. True there are cases where it is one sided.

Most of the time, both sides are guilty of abusive treatment.

So, let us put on the clothing of loving her when it seems impossible or respecting him when it seems impossible and see what God can do?

Self awareness of our own behavior and sin can do wonders for our hearts and help us change what we are in control of changing.

Thanks for this great article!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this article! I really needed this today and it was a awesome encouragement. My husband and I have been separated for a while and he just filed for divorce. I came upon Love and Respect and am doing everything I can to show unconditional respect and to reach out to him. Right now he is still very set in getting a divorce. I have been fasting and praying for almost a month and a half and was feeling a little discouraged and afraid. This article was just what I needed today.

Alison Sutton said...

Emerson clearly states that he does not elect anyone to tolerate abuse. There are ways to address the abuse and set boundaries with an attitude of love or respect.

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