It was forty-four years ago, but I still vividly remember the overwhelming emotional moment when I realized our marriage is in serious trouble. I don’t remember all of the circumstances of our conflicts, but I do remember days without real conversation. I remember the frustration, despair, and anger. I remember thinking:
- “This is not what I expected at all”
- “I have no idea what to do”
- “I have no idea what happened to us”
There were times when we didn’t feel like we were ever going to experience the marriage we had both hoped for and expected.
3 Types of Marriage Problems
Over the years we have had to look at each other many times and say “Honey, we have a problem.” Of course, problems come in different shapes and sizes:
- Problems between us (failures and sins)
- Problems that come upon us (various sufferings)
- Problems one or both us created (bad decisions or actions)
Sometimes we have had a mix of all three. Sometimes that mix creates such a confusing spaghetti bowl that it’s difficult to unravel them. I want to encourage you with four guiding principles to pursue when your marriage is experiencing any of these types of trouble.
1. Make Oneness Your Goal
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)
God’s desire and purpose for our marriage is for us to experience deep intimacy physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. That fact has helped us respond to problems in a powerfully positive way over and over.
When our eleven-month-old son was diagnosed with cancer, we realized that our marriage was at risk also. We cried out to God for his help to grow together in oneness rather than be torn apart by all that we would face over his sixty-five weeks of treatments. Our belief in God’s design for unity in marriage guided us through every moment of that trial. His treatments were successful, and our marriage grew stronger.
2. Don’t Withdraw, Draw Near
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Prov. 18:1)
When the Scripture talks about desires it is usually not talking about superficial desires for material possessions. It is talking about the deepest desires in the recesses of our heart, such as these desires:
- for acceptance
- for comfort
- for respect
- for security
- for value
- for significance
- for success
These deepest desires—usually hidden—are strong undercurrents in our heart that can propel us through the big decisions of life. And they can also be destructive and cause all kinds of relational conflicts and problems in marriage (James 4:1):
- Withdrawing into repetitive internal thinking where our own perspectives and plans are reinforced
- Believing these fleshly desires are natural
- Focusing on our desires over the needs of others
- Rejecting biblical truths that run contrary to these desires
- Letting our desires push us to project our false ideas onto God
When reinforced thinking based on our desires gets a strong foothold in our heart, we will start to reject any perspective that runs counter to these inner narratives. We need to second guess our desires and not withdraw from God’s Word or our spouse. Instead we need to draw near to both for counsel and help.
3. Look Beyond Yourself
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
Some of the most intimate and defining moments of our marriage have been when we were crying out to God for grace to help.
Many of our problems did not work out according to our hopes and desires, but upon reflection we have always been able to look back and see His perfect provision when we looked to him. Sometimes it was just strength to get through another day. Other times it was peace and unity. Sometimes it was in unexpected blessings. He never ignored our prayers.
4. Seek the Wisdom of Others
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Prov. 11:14)
Dori and I often remark that we are so thankful that we were taught early in our Christian lives that the Bible had real answers for our problems. Even in our conflicts we found unity in that truth. Time and time again a particular Bible verse or truth has helped us individually and together.
But many times, we have found help from friends from the Word. We needed to seek the wisdom of others to help us in our struggle. Sometimes we have sought counsel from others in the church, and that counsel was just what we needed.
What We Never Expected
Forty-four years ago, my wife and I would never have expected to spend several weeks together in a global pandemic lockdown. But because God has shown himself present and powerful in numerous marriage problems over the years, this situation has actually made us profoundly aware of the blessing of our marriage. There is no one else I would want to be in lockdown with than my wife Dori!