This post is a more honest post about marriage. The real stuff. Not fluffy. So read on only if you dare, you’ve been warned. All marriages struggle at some point, but almost no one talks honestly about it or how to get through it. So here’s my attempt.
Six years of marriage, three kids, and more than a few major life stressors in that short time took a toll on our marriage in a way that neither of us saw coming. All of the sudden we could not find common ground, we had difficulty connecting, and we were just on edge with each other for a good portion of this last year. We had lost each other in it all. This was more than just a season of struggle…we were lost within our marriage…we couldn’t find the friend we had known in the other. These were some of the darkest days of our marriage to date. In the midst of it, the days were increasingly difficult and the gap between us only widened as time passed. Time itself does not heal.
We were lost within our marriage.
Then this past September, breakthrough happened. Through a chain of events, some brutal honesty, the prayers of trusted friends, combined with truly listening to each other, to the whispers of the Spirit, and to the words of an insightful counselor, Jesus took all that had been crumbling for months between us and made something totally new. We had to stop and accept the other person and who he/she had become. We had to stop and acknowledge the stressors for what they were, recognize that many of them were outside our marriage relationship and not our marriage itself, and find common ground together to face them. We had to acknowledge and accept the hard things we do each bring to the table of our marriage. Neither one of us is the problem, but because we are (quite opposite) human beings, we bring our own sets of struggles, challenges, and hard things into our marriage. We had to renew grace for the other’s challenges and also acknowledge that we needed grace for our own challenges.
And we had to silence the lies the enemy was whispering in the dark: that we couldn’t make it together. The enemy is a tricky one…just when you are about to tip over the edge, he prods you, hoping you’ll fall and blame everything and everyone but him. But Jesus is greater. When we looked to Jesus, He caught us before we fell over the edge. He sat us back up and spoke truth that comforted and connected us.
Just shy of a month after that breakthrough (that lasted and changed our marriage forever), we had the opportunity to leave all three of our kids with my mom and brother. We got to go into “the city” (a.k.a. Oklahoma City) for two nights. And while we were there, we felt again that friendship that had been such a strength for us. We remembered what good friends we are. We had the time and the space and the energy to reconnect into the relationship that we felt like we were losing. We were able to truly see each other and remember that we did really like each other.
Over the last few years, I have become convinced that no marriage is exempt from struggle. And if it appears that a couple seems to never struggle, chances are that one or both persons have never faced underlying (human) issues. You can go twenty years living around one another and accommodating each other, ignoring glaring issues in your relationship and having almost everyone around you convinced that you’ve got a great marriage, only to crash later. Or you can struggle from day one, wondering if you will ever get on the same page. Or most commonly, you can be married with seasons of ease and connection intermixed with seasons of struggle. The greatest, strongest, longest marriages fully face those struggles, learn from what’s there, and allow Jesus to take what’s difficult and totally restore it to become a place of life and strength for the couple.
If you are going through a difficult season in your marriage, I would encourage you to…
Be brutally honest with yourself about what you see happening. Pray over what you see and ask the Spirit for insight and help.
Own Your Own Mess
Face your own weaknesses and challenges that you are bringing to your marriage. Acknowledge them, own them, and recognize that those things can be hard for your spouse.
See Your Spouse as a Regular, Human Person with Struggles
See your spouse’s weaknesses and challenges from a perspective of grace. Sure, you may need to work through some of the hard things together to come to an agreed upon solutions, but work to give your spouse as much grace as you long to receive.
Identify the lies that the enemy uses to trip you up. Write them down on a piece of paper where you can see them. Ask Jesus for the truths that counteract those lies. Giving space to lies from the enemy can quickly take you down a slippery slope in your marriage. Stay alert to places he lies to you about yourself, about your spouse, and about your marriage. He will take any opportunity he can to create a wedge between you and your spouse.*
Identify Outside Stressors
Identify outside stressors for what they are. What outside stress factors are taking a toll on your marriage that are not actually your marriage itself? Pray about what you can do to lift some of the stressors to give your marriage more space and attention.
Seek insightful voices to help you along the way. Whether that be wise and trusted friends or a counselor (click here for an excellent article on pursuing marriage counseling), you will need other voices speaking life into your marriage at times. Seek those trusted voices early rather than when it’s almost too late.
Most of all, know that you are not alone. Marriage is amazing and hard. It is a beautiful reality that requires so much more than you ever expect, especially if you want to be truly connected to your spouse, living as one. You will constantly be living in vulnerability and honesty and giving grace and learning and growing and being transformed and becoming one…and it will be so worth it.
And if you need a soundtrack for seasons of struggle, might I suggest these songs as a start:
“Mess is Mine” by Vance Joy
“Stay Alive” by Jose Gonzalez
“Farther Along” by Josh Garrels
“Nothing I Hold On To (Live)” by Will Reagan & United Pursuit
As a Last Resort
As a very last resort, if one person in the marriage is consistently unwilling to work toward resolving the issues and/or if that person is characterized by unrepentance of his or her sin in the marriage, it may be necessary to separate until or unless that pattern changes. Seeking support of trusted, wise, and prayerful friends as well as insight from a gifted marriage counselor is recommended for seasons of separation to prevent bitterness from growing.
* The spiritual battle is real in life, just check out the following passages. Marriage is often a focus of spiritual attack because our marriages so comprehensively affect our entire selves and lives. Recognizing the spiritual battle over our marriages is vital.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 (ESV)
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
And in John 8:44, the devil is described as a “liar” and the “father of lies.”