By Joanna Teigen, Crosswalk.com
“She’s not the same woman I married.”
“Does he really care about me?”
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
In marriage, we struggle in the tension between hopeful ideals and the very real hurts we feel as husbands and wives. Blind optimism says our spouse is our perfect soulmate who can do no wrong—but this only sets us up for painful disappointment.
That pain then feeds negativity that can only see the worst in our partner. Unrealistic expectations set us up for frustration, confusion, and distance in our marriage.
Hope and help are found in confronting the hard facts of marriage together. You can discover what subtle, false messages you’re believing about each other. You can name the threats to your relationship and tackle them head-on.
By facing these 5 hard facts of marriage together, you can grow closer and stronger together than ever before.
1. The Odds Are Against You
At the moment you said, “I do,” you stepped onto a battlefield.
Our culture’s high divorce rate is proof that many couples are losing the war. For those in the trenches, marriage and family therapists make up the fastest-growing segment of mental health professionals. Marriage is tough and we know it.
The Bible describes exactly why it’s a struggle to love each other for life. The enemies of your soul—the world, the flesh, and the devil—are coming against your marriage every day.
The world says a faithful, lifelong relationship is either a hopeless ideal or a miserable trap to steal your happiness. Your flesh, or your sinful desires and thoughts, is selfish and wants its own way.
The devil is constantly denying God’s truth, tempting you to break your vows, and working to destroy your home.
Yet in the middle of all the bad news, God offers hope. We’re not in the battle alone. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
No matter how beaten and battered your marriage might be, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
2. Marriage Isn’t Math
In our marriage, we might dream of a 50-50 equation. We’re confident if we bear an equal load of work and effort, we’ll strike a happy balance in our home.
Yet a 50-50 marriage soon runs into trouble.
It keeps score, measuring if each partner is doing their fair share. It refuses to go above and beyond. Frustration and resentment grow until giving to one another is a burden instead of a joy.
We can also hold to the ideal that one plus one equals one. Surely if we each give our whole selves to the marriage at all times, our lives will be whole and complete.
We find, though, that hardships and struggles hold us back. A husband battling depression won’t have a full measure of energy and motivation to offer. A wife who’s lost her job can’t bring her top-earning potential to the budget.
Caring for infants, kids with special needs, or aging parents may limit your ability to meet the needs of your spouse. A one plus one equals one equation falls apart in the “for worse” seasons of life.
For our marriage to thrive, we need to toss the math book. Our measuring stick is Jesus, whose love is so “wide and long and high and deep,” it’s beyond understanding. (Ephesians 3:18-19) God invites us to pray for that same love: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
His Spirit will give us the compassion and humility we need to put each other first. He’ll multiply our patience, our generosity, and our love to be greater than ever before.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
3. Your Spouse’s Family Is Your Family, Too
A husband and wife enter marriage with a lifetime of memories and family relationships attached to their heart. As you unite to one another, you become joined to the people who shaped your spouse’s habits and view of the world.
Navigating a whole new set of parents, siblings, and relatives puts you in uncharted waters. The differences in your family traditions and personalities can put a strain on your marriage.
Chances are, your families have shaped the way you celebrate holidays. Plan vacations. Spend or save your money. Discipline your kids.
They influence how you deal with conflict and stress. Your background can impact the way you put down roots or crave variety and change. Every time your family differences collide, you have a choice: You can seek to understand and compromise, or you can fight for what’s familiar.
God wants to use your family relationships to grow you closer to him and each other. He places each person in your life to refine you to be more like Jesus. Take a fresh look at your in-laws to see the character strengths they instilled in your spouse.
Practice empathy for the setbacks and hardships that wounded their spirits. Ask God how he’s using your in-law relationships to expose sin and grow your faith. He’ll help you to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger” so you can “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
4. You Can’t Change Your Spouse
Remember how excited you were to discover your spouse was “the one”? And, do you remember when those cute little quirks were not so endearing anymore? With the best of intentions, you started a mission to fix and change the weaknesses you see in your spouse.
Perhaps your partner could stand to be more organized. She could be more punctual and pick up the pace when she’s driving. His table manners leave a bit to be desired. She needs a little backbone with her pushy boss. He should keep his cool when the neighbor’s dog makes a mess in your yard. Again.
It’s easy to spot all the ways your spouse could shape up and wise up by taking your input to heart.
Yet all that “help” won’t bring the results you’re hoping for. Your spouse is a unique creation of God with a personality, appearance, and character of their own. Sure, you can influence each other’s taste in meals and movies, but you can’t dictate anyone’s dreams and desires. Fears or motivations. Beliefs and emotions.
You and your spouse are called to love each other just as you are.
If your husband or wife is struggling with immaturity or you need more grace, take it to prayer. Put your trust in God, who “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
Real change is possible through the loving work that only God can do.
5. Your Spouse Can’t Make You Happy
Marriage has the potential to flood your life with blessings. It offers companionship to ease your loneliness. It holds the joys of affection and sexual intimacy.
Your spouse can be a teammate who lightens your load and tackles life’s challenges by your side. In marriage, you can find a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader for your dreams and goals, and a friend who cares.
Yet even the best marriage has limitations. Your spouse can’t erase the pain of the past and heal your wounds. Marriage won’t set you free from stress, anxiety, and trouble. It won’t give you the sense of worth or identity you crave.
No matter how devoted your spouse may be, they’re not perfect.
At times they’ll let you down and lose your respect. They’ll fail to say the words you long to hear. Your spouse’s shoulders were never meant to carry the entire weight of your hopes, your needs, and the desires of your heart.
While marriage is a good and wonderful gift, our best happiness comes from the Giver himself.
In him, we find salvation and new life. He transforms our thinking, meets our needs, and gives purpose for our lives. His love is constant and greater than we can comprehend. If we look to God for joy, the Word becomes our own:
Praise the Lord my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:2-5).
Once you depend on God for your happiness, you’re free to love and bless your spouse more than ever. Jesus’ love can fill your home with the greatest joy you’ve ever known.
Joanna Teigen and her husband Rob have shared over 25 years of marriage and life with five kids, plus a beautiful daughter-in-law. They’re a neat-freak married to a mess, an explorer to a homebody, and an introvert to a ‘people person.’ But they agree their vows are for always and prayer is powerful. Joanna is the co-author of Mr. and Mrs., 366 Devotions for Couples, A Mom’s Prayers for Her Son, and a variety of other resources for couples and parents. She looks forward to meeting you at https://growinghometogether.com/
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Remi Walle
Joanna Teigen and her husband Rob have shared over 25 years of marriage and life with five kids, plus a beautiful daughter-in-law. They’re a neat freak married to a mess, an explorer to a homebody, and an introvert to a “people person.” But they agree their vows are for always and prayer is powerful. Joanna is the co-author of Mr. and Mrs., 366 Devotions for Couples, A Mom’s Prayers for Her Son, and an inspiring collection of resources for couples and parents. She looks forward to meeting you at growinghometogether,com.