Christian psychiatrist Paul D. Meier says there are “only three choices for a person who is involved in an unhappy marriage. (1) get a divorce —the greatest cop-out and by far the most immature choice; (2) tough out the marriage without working to improve it —another immature decision but not quite as irresponsible as divorce; and (3) maturely face up to personal hang-ups and choose to build an intimate marriage out of the existing one —the only really mature choice to make.” But if your spouse isn’t helping in your marriage, how is it possible to save your marriage alone?
In your case, the moment of truth has come. Your partner probably has already ruled out the second option and chosen the first without even considering the third. The question is, “What will you do?” Surrender to the pressures of the world’s way of thinking and the emotions of the moment? Or will you make a choice based on confidence in the eternal truths of Scripture?
The stakes are higher than one may realize at the time. One choice clearly leads to the bitterness and defeat of divorce as well as lost opportunities for blessing. “Divorce is more painful than death,” a woman told me. “The reason is because it’s never really over.”
Dr Meier says that when couples run away from their problems by divorcing and remarrying, “then there are four miserable people instead of just two…. Why spread misery?” he asks. “Bad marriages are contagious! Numerous psychiatric marriage partners get divorced. No matter how good their intentions may be they nearly always remarry into the very same type of neurotic relationship they had before.”
When you choose the pathway of irrevocable commitment to your mate and your marriage —regardless of how troubled your relationship may seem —you will find that choice leading you into a place of agape love and peace and personal growth. These are just some of the rewards, for the chances are very good that you will also be able to enjoy the blessings that God has wanted to bestow on your marriage from the beginning.
Meeting marriage problems in a biblical manner
I am not suggesting that the healing of a marriage is an easy process when one partner resists it. But are any easy choices open to you, after all? Torn relationships involve pain, whatever you do about them. As Peter points out in his first letter, it is far better to suffer (if suffer you must) for doing right, than for doing wrong. He makes it clear that God’s favor and blessing shine on the one who patiently suffers, if necessary, in order to do His will. Meeting your marriage problems in a biblical manner is productive rather than pointless, and whatever hurts your encounter will be less damaging than the long-term effects of divorce would be.
“The very word divorce should be cut out of the vocabulary of a couple when they marry,” said a woman with a restored marriage. “God’s way is so much better for anyone who is willing to give it a try.”
Another woman, considering the turbulent events of the past year that had driven her to grow emotionally and spiritually while she “loved her husband back” to their marriage, said, “It’s been all gain for me. I’m a different person now. The process was humbling, but it was worth it!”
A man said, “During the time when I was trying to win my wife’s love and hold our family together, sometimes I got so tired of rejection that I didn’t feel anything except a determination to do what the Bible said and leave the results with God. The only thing I was sure of was that somehow God would work it out for my good because He promised that in His Word. I never imagined the love affair He has actually given us. He really does do more than we can ask or think!”
Clarify your thoughts, stabilize your emotions, and learn
While these comments from the far side of the problem are encouraging, I understand that the feelings you may be experiencing right now are less than pleasant. Many others have been where you are now. They can empathize with what you are going through: shock, hurt, rejection, emotional confusion, temptation to bitterness. And of course, there are pressures from all sides that sometimes make you want to give up.
My heartfelt goal is to help you clarify your thoughts, and stabilize your emotions. Plus, it is to help you learn to behave in a consistent, purposeful way that will save your marriage and bring a new dimension of love into your relationship.
So, if you are willing to make a commitment to your marriage based on the eternal principles and promises of the Word of God, you can take heart and let hope grow in promises of the Word of God, you can take heart and let hope grow in proportion to your commitment. Contrary to what the world believes, one person can save a marriage. In fact, most of the people I counsel belong in this category. Even when both come to see me, one is usually dragging the other along, in a manner of speaking, and only one really cares about the outcome in most cases.
Are you feeling all is without hope?
Marriage counselor Anne Kristin Carroll says, “If you think there’s no hope because you are the only one in your relationship who cares enough to try to save your marriage, you are wrong!” She adds, “In my experience most torn marriages are brought to new life by the efforts of only one party.” This has also been my experience. I have seen numerous marriages saved when only one partner applied biblical principles in a whole hearted commitment to the mate and the marriage.
Some marriages have not been saved. Usually this is because the individual is convinced that nothing will change the partner, and he or she simply gives up.
Occasionally, the partner desiring a divorce has developed a strong emotional attachment to another person. This infatuation often ends while the divorce is being delayed. Eventually the unfaithful partner thanks the committed mate for standing fast and preserving the marriage.
In a relatively few cases, one partner develops bitterness toward the other. He or she is actually encouraged to feel this hostility by parents and sometimes, church members. That causes the efforts at reconciliation to be unavailing.
But in the majority of cases, the outcome depends upon the committed partner’s ability to behave consistently in accord with biblical principles. So, in a very literal sense, it is all up to you. You need not expect your partner to do anything constructive about the marriage if he or she wants out.
Clarifying Your Thoughts
When the Bible says, “Gird up the loins of your mind“ (1 Peter 1:13), it means to get your mental powers in a state of alertness for proper action. You must do this without delay. Often the Lord will provide the opportunity for some uninterrupted Bible study and prayerful consideration of God’s plan for your situation. You may also learn some important things about yourself during this time.
When one husband moved out, his parents lovingly helped the wife by keeping the children several weeks. This gave her the opportunity to be better prepared mentally and spiritually for the challenges ahead.
One young wife was ready to dissolve her marriage until a friend in her garden club led her to the Lord. “I only knew two Scriptures at the beginning,” the wife said. “But they were exactly what I needed. ‘God is not a man, that he should lie‘ (Numbers 23:19) and ‘With God nothing shall be impossible‘ (Luke 1:37).
“With those truths as a foundation I began to study the Bible, desperately trying to dig out God’s purpose for marriage and all that He had to say about it. I saw that if I were to obey Him, then I would have to become committed to my marriage and my husband. That’s true even though he was involved with another woman and we were on the verge of divorce.
“Coming to this decision didn’t make things any easier emotionally at first. But what it did was show me a clear path of action. The situation actually became less complicated because there was no more confusion about what to do! I refused to sign the divorce papers. I had gathered evidence identifying the other woman and proving my husband’s unfaithfulness. Destroying it all was important because I didn’t need it anymore.”
Teaching right and wrong
A University of Chicago professor described this generation’s dilemma with the now familiar quotation. “We lack the language to teach what is right and wrong.” But Bible-believing Christian caught in an emotionally fraught situation do not have that problem. The language of God concerning divorce is plain enough for any reader. For example:
For the Lord, the God of Israel says: I hate divorce and marital separation, and him who covers his garment [his wife] with violence. Therefore keep a watch upon your spirit [that it may be controlled by My Spirit], that you deal not treacherously and faithlessly [with your marriage mate] (Malachi 2:16 AMP).
He replied, ‘Have you never read that He Who made them from the beginning made them male and female’. And said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be united firmly (joined inseparably) to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder’ (separate) (Matthew 19:4-6 AMP).
As you try to gain clarity of thought concerning your marital situation viewed in light of the teaching of Scripture, I suggest that you read the first five chapters of the book, Love Life for Every Married Couple. Search the Scriptures that have to do with marriage. The following is the eternal principle that undergirds the biblical counsel we offer. It is God’s will for every married couple to love each other with an absorbing spiritual, emotional, and physical attraction. It is one that should grow throughout their lifetime together.
The picture of Christ and His church
It should be crystal clear that God intends for you and your mate to picture the love-bond of Christ and His church. You must beware of substitutes who sometimes find their way into the vacuum of a troubled relationship. Obviously, infidelity and divorce are paths that move away from God’s plan and blessing. But when you pour yourself into restoring love to your marriage, the force of His will is at work with you.
It is important to fill your mind with positive biblical input. I’m talking of biblical counseling, preaching, and teaching. You also need good books, Bible-study resources; and friends who will affirm you in your commitment to your marriage. You need to take in truth from those who are as committed to the permanence of marriage as the Bible is. And don’t listen to anyone else! Develop tunnel vision in this area as Proverbs 4:25-27 commands:
Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil (NASB).
You need to maintain this total mental commitment to the truth. If you aren’t committed to honoring God’s truth you will be swamped by waves of human opinion and bad advice. Sometimes they come from seemingly religious people.
One young man came to me confused. He had been told to do nothing to win back his wife. He had been told to instead concentrate on his vertical relationship with God. I said to him, “This is true, but you can please God only when you are doing what the Bible says you are to do. You must be right in line with God’s Word. We have no other direction for this life. When we are in total accord with the Word, then we can relax and God has the freedom to work with us. He always works with us on the basis of the information that we have from His Word. So the more you know of the Word of God concerning marriage and His abhorrence of divorce, the more equipped you will be to let God do His full work in your life.”
“I had to take a stand on this matter of outside influence,” a wife told me. “Everyone has been anxious to give me advice about my marriage. I refuse to discuss it with people who hold an unbiblical viewpoint, or people who try to turn me against my husband. Also, I won’t discuss it with people who make me feel sorry for myself and encourage weakness in me. I can’t afford to be around worldly friends anymore. They tear me down, and tear my husband down. They are so misguided, even if they mean well. I want to be with people who will stand with me and support me when I might falter.”
A settled mind brings clarification
Your thoughts are clarified when your mind is settled. When your commitment made, you will find that you no longer lie at the mercy of outside events. You also no longer react to every new circumstance with fresh pain and bewilderment. Instead, your viewpoint becomes, “This is what I am going to do, no matter what, because it is God’s way to do it. I can count on His wisdom, and I can trust Him with the results of actions based on His Word.”
One woman told me, “I’m not standing by my marriage anymore on the basis of what the outcome will be.” “People urge me to dump my husband, and to give up on him because he’s made my life miserable. They tell me I deserve someone better, that I wouldn’t have any trouble finding someone else to love me.
Work to Save Your Marriage Alone
My answer is that marriage is sacred; marriage is permanent; I am committed by my marriage vows; I am one flesh with my husband; and then I really shock them! I tell them that even if there is no happy ending for our marriage, I will not regret the stand I have taken. This is the right decision and I followed the only course possible for me. I will have done all that I could.
“But my trust is not in what I am doing,” she added. “It is in God and His Word. He has a perfect, loving plan for my life, and He’s wise enough and powerful enough to carry it out, if I cooperate by following His counsel. So I’m going to keep on obeying Him in my marriage and I’ll leave the results with Him. I am at peace with that.”
[Marriage Missions editors’ note:
The authors, Dr Ed Wheat and Gloria Okes Perkins go on from this point to include a lot more advice. For many different reasons, including honoring their copyright privileges, we need to shorten this article. Plus we think you need to obtain the book yourself because of the additional advice you’ll benefit from reading. But we do want to end this article with some practical advice.]
Counsel that gave courage
A happy wife wrote me a note of thanks for my counsel. She said it gave her the courage to stick with her marriage. She said, “One little thing you said to me meant so much. You said, ‘So what if your husband doesn’t tell you he loves you right now!” I knew you were right. I really wasn’t that important.“ She found that putting up with rejection was worth it in the long run in order to have a revitalized marriage.
I have talked with many women who tell me that when they do not feel their husband’s love, the Lord has a way of loving them that is almost tangible. “Like being in the sunshine, just feeling the warmth of His love,” several wives agreed.
A young wife carried that a step further in her own trying situation. She said that it was often difficult to go out with her husband. She knew that he would not treat her the way she longed to be treated. So she developed the habit of thinking of the Lord Jesus as her friend and escort of the evening. “It helped me tremendously,“ she said. “I behaved my best for Him, and was constantly aware of His steadying presence with me!”
You need to give love to your mate biblically, emotionally, and physically whether you receive a response or not. This is altogether possible through agape love. One wife, whose husband was involved with another woman, said, “I tried to show him that my love for him did not depend on how he treated me. I still showed him physical affection. I sent him cards with appropriate messages that expressed my caring while we were apart. And, do you know, when we reconciled, I found that he had saved every one of them!”
I talked to some wives who had experienced saving their marriages. I asked them to give their list of do’s and don’ts for a wife trying to save her marriage.
Here are their suggestions:
• There can be no growth in your relationship if there is doubt as to your commitment to your marriage. Make your commitment!
– Trust the Lord to meet your emotional needs. He won’t let you down!
• Live one day at a time.
– Don’t try to do it on your own. The Lord is with you!
• Never turn your children against their father. Forgive!
– Don’t ask family or friends to take sides against your spouse.
• Don’t discuss your intimate marriage problems. Don’t give fuel to gossip. Confide in the Lord, your counselor, and perhaps a close Christian friend whom you can trust.
– Choose your biblical counselor wisely. Never discuss your problems with a friend of the opposite sex.
• Spend as much time in the Word of God as possible.
– Also –
– Concentrate on redeeming the mistakes you made. Ask God to show you how to change, rather than concentrating on your partner’s failures.
• Do all in your power to delay or prevent divorce. If you consult a lawyer, make it clear to the lawyer that it’s only for your financial protection and for your children. Find a Christian lawyer who will help you preserve your marriage.
– Spend your time with people who will encourage you in spiritual growth.
• Do not overcompensate with your children. They need your love and stability; but they still need discipline. It will be hard to build a new love relationship with your husband if the children are out of control.
– Don’t expect your spouse to change overnight.
• Hope all things, believe all things, and endure all things.
This article comes from the book Love Life for Every Married Couple, written by Dr Ed Wheat and Gloria Okes Perkins, published by Zondervan Publishing. The book details the process of rediscovering the joy of marriage through practical counsel involving communication and an understanding of each other in our sexual make-up. Physician Ed Wheat answers physical, and stress-related questions in a Christian context. Dr. Wheat demonstrates how to bring your feelings of love back to life. There is also a shorter version of this book titled, How to Save Your Marriage Alone, written by the same authors.
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