Mark and Sherry had been married for less than a year. Here they were sitting in my office, explaining that I was their last hope before they would pursue a divorce. They were sick of the arguing, and the hurt they were causing one another. No matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t seem to move past their struggles.

The truth is whether you’ve been married 1 year or 40, relationships can be really hard. We have all these ideas and expectations of what they will be like, but sometimes things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes, our hurts, fears, and insecurities get the best of us. Sometimes, we find ourselves stuck in a situation with what seems to be no way out.

When it comes to broken relationships, it’s important to remember that there are two battles taking place. Not only are we fighting the battle of human brokenness from within our marriage, but there is an enemy from without, working his hardest to tear down this safe place that God has built up. He is a great destroyer, and he will use everything and anything to crack the foundation of your relationship and to wreak havoc on your heart.

As much as I hate to admit it, I know many of you are feeling that pain even today. As a professional counselor, I see many different couples along the spectrum of brokenness. Not only that, being married myself, I know firsthand the struggle that marriage can sometimes be. All around us there are those who are hurting, doing their best to pick up the pieces of their shattered expectations.

While each couple comes with different needs, there are three things I always present when working with a couple in counseling:

1. The first step to healing is looking in. No matter who did what along the road of brokenness, the first step to healing is always looking in. Our human tendency to blame each other and defend ourselves can be a huge inhibitor toward healing, because it’s an attitude that passes responsibility. The couple who take this step seriously makes room for real and lasting change. If you find yourself constantly looking at the flaws of your partner - never taking the time to acknowledge your role in the relationship - then there’s a good chance the change you’re looking for will never fully come.

2. Your past has more to do with your present than you think. I think this has been the most profound truth I’ve witnessed through my career. So many of the wounds and hurts of our present are things that didn’t start in our marriage, but are simply repeating themselves. The things that you find yourself struggling with the most in your marriage are most likely things you’ve struggled with at some other point in your life: feelings of abandonment, insecurities, or issues of control. Anger, jealousy, or the ability to say no. The wounds of our present may be rooted in our past, but continue to be experienced within the context of our marriage. But the beautiful news is that God can USE our marriage to bring us healing, by working these things out in our lives and in our hearts. The biggest struggles can be transformed into our greatest strengths - if we come to terms with them, and then offer them up to Him. He knows what hurts our hearts, but more so he knows what heals.

3. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean forgetting. Time and time again in Scripture we are called to forgive. The only way to be freed from the hurts in our life is by letting them lose power over us. Forgiveness allows us to let go and move into healing, trusting God with the biggest wounds in our life. We are called to have grace with one another, and to not hold on to things in anger and bitterness. That is true forgiveness, because it reflects the heart of Jesus, and it’s something we need to apply in our marriages each and every single day.