Find Peace and Confidence Despite a Difficult Marriage
- Friday, September 19, 2003
If you’re in a difficult marriage, you’re probably struggling with a host of negative emotions, and circumstances that are far different from what you had hoped. When you look at your spouse, you may see any number of issues that hurt your marriage. Perhaps he or she is addicted – to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, or something else. Maybe your spouse explodes regularly in anger, breaks promises, or runs up debt. Whatever your circumstances, a difficult marriage can rob you of the peace and confidence God wants you to have.
Here are some principles you can apply to find that peace and confidence, even in the midst of a difficult marriage:
- Understand Scriptural truths. Don’t allow your spouse to take Scripture out of context or twist its meaning for his or her own agenda. Know that God intends husbands and wives to treat each other with mutual love and respect, and never to harshly control each other. If your spouse tries to force you to do something that’s contrary to Scripture or that will cause harm to you or others, refuse to do it. Set the boundaries you need to set to say no to sin in your life. But as you set them, do so with a quiet and gentle spirit rather than a spirit of hostility. Remember that God is ultimately in control of all situations – including your marriage – and that you can trust Him.
- Reach out. It can seem easier to isolate yourself from others and hide the problems you’re experiencing in your marriage. But doing so will only make you stuck. It’s vital to build a support system outside your marriage. Reach out to family members and friends for help and encouragement, and take advantage of help that’s available from your church, support groups, and professional counselors.
- Change yourself, not him. Realize that you cannot change another person – only God can. Shift your focus from trying to change your spouse to working on changing yourself. Once you do, you will improve the dynamics of the marital relationship at least in part, because a change by one person affects the whole relationship. Realize that you’re not a victim or martyr; that you do have choices, and you need to take full responsibility for them. Admit your part in your marital problems, and study the motives for your actions. Ask God to renew your heart and set a right spirit within you. When talking to your spouse about a problem with his or her behavior, use “I” statements that focus on how you think or feel about it rather than “you” statements that insult or blame your spouse. Adjust your expectations to reality, and accept that your spouse is who he or she is right now. Find something about your spouse to appreciate, then compliment your spouse on whatever it is. Your approval and encouragement in one area could motivate your spouse to change in other areas.
- Detach with love. Realize that you and your spouse are two separate people, and that you don’t have to be affected by everything your spouse says or does. Rather than simply reacting to your spouse, decide that you will act according to how God leads you, regardless of your spouse’s behavior. Don’t enable your spouse to continue reckless behavior by protecting him or her from the consequences of it, hiding it from others, or taking on responsibilities that should only belong to your spouse. If your spouse blames you for his or her own poor choices, refuse to take the blame, knowing that no matter what you do or say, your spouse alone is responsible for how he or she reacts to you. Also detach from your spouse’s anger, moods, threats, crises, and other problems. Be courteous and gracious, but focus more on your own daily life than on your spouse’s.
- Nurture yourself. Take care of your own emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental needs. Build friendships outside your marriage; get the proper amount of sleep, recreation, and exercise; eat nutritiously; read the Bible regularly (perhaps just meditating on a single verse each day); and pray often, asking God to give you guidance and strength. Put your God-given talents to use through a job or volunteer work. Learn new skills and explore your interests by taking classes. Keep a journal. Ask God to help you forgive others and let go of regrets. Keep your life as simple as possible so you can focus on what truly matters. Your spouse may respect you more when you respect yourself.
- Face your fears. Surrender to God every type of fear you may have: fear of your spouse’s reaction to something, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of divorce, fear of being alone, fear of disappointment, fear of suicide, fear of feeling your emotions, fear of being out of God’s will, fear of what people will think, fear regarding your children, fear of regret, fear of the unknown, or fear of staying the same. Know that you can trust God to handle anything you fear.
- Speak the truth in love. Let go of denial and self-doubt. Know that even if your spouse is speaking the truth about something, you can do so. Be willing to confront your spouse about a serious problem, being honest, direct, respectful, humble, patient and persistent. Then be willing to fully listen to your spouse’s response.
- Set boundaries. Know that setting boundaries is a healthy thing to do, and that Jesus Himself set boundaries as He interacted with others. Consider such issues as what you’re willing to do, what you’re willing to tolerate, what you find offensive, where you’ll go, what you believe and value, and what your needs and priorities are. Then set appropriate boundaries to protect yourself and your children, and so your spouse will know that his or her choices carry consequences.
- Make your children a priority. Realize that your children are adversely affected by your marital problems. Make the time to listen to them express their thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. Be honest with them and acknowledge the problems that exist in your marriage, but don’t disparage your spouse unnecessarily. Admit the facts, but don’t try to turn your children against your spouse. Provide as much stability as you can for them, and meet their needs. Don’t depend on your children to meet your own needs, but seek to meet their needs with God’s help. Give them the discipline they need as well, without coddling them. Apologize to your children for ways you have hurt them.
- Enter God’s rest. Avoid making major life changes such as moving, having a baby, or changing jobs while you and your spouse are working to build a healthier marriage. Devote your time and energy to pursuing God’s healing for your marriage and rebuilding trust with each other. Leave your hurts and disappointments behind and embrace the courage God will give you to risk a new beginning in your marriage. Trust God to take you and your spouse’s imperfections and broken dreams and redeem them for a greater good.
Adapted from "10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages," © 2003 by Karla Downing. Published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, www.beaconhillbooks.com.
Karla Downing has blended her faith, the experiences of her personal struggles during her 23-year marriage, and the knowledge she has gained into a biblically based program designed to change women’s lives. She serves as a group leader, speaker, and mentor as she completes her degree in marriage and family therapy. She lives in Yorba Linda, California, with her husband and three daughters.
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