Dear Dr. David,

My wife and I have been married for 22 years and have three beautiful children. We are in our mid 40’s and our marriage is the worst it has ever been. We rarely have pleasant conversations—it seems the simplest topic can degenerate into bickering. Our home is a very sad place for us to be, not to mention our children.

My wife blames me for everything. She finds everything I do wrong and then attacks me for it. She never forgets a mistake. She doesn’t hesitate to argue in front of the kids, though I ask her not to do this. Many of our conflicts stem from a long time ago, but she won’t let them go. I am at the end of my rope.

My question for you is, when is enough, enough? How much conflict should one person tolerate before they consider divorce? Isn’t living in conflict just as bad as divorce? I am confused by all this, and tired of platitudes that say stick it out for the kids. I know our kids are hurting from all of this. She finds marriage books that talk about the man as responsible for all that is wrong in the marriage then crams that information down my throat and blames me for all of her negative feelings. I feel the need to get away every time I see her and to avoid conversations because it is just the next argument. What do I do?

--Hurting Man

Dear Hurting,

I really do hear, and sense, your pain. Months of conflict, let alone years, are draining on our emotional and spiritual well-being, and especially on marriage. In fact, it is amazing you and your wife have stuck together this long.

Reading your letter, I have some concerns. You focus exclusively on what your wife is doing, how she blames you for past grievances. On the surface, this is wrong. The scriptures encourage us to forgive. However, forgiveness often takes time, and I wonder what you are doing to help her in that process. Have you made amends for the wrongs you have done? Have you done everything possible to help her heal?

I also want to encourage you to consider the situation from another perspective. There are not simply two options here: Leave or live in misery. We often have too narrow a vision, when there are infinite possibilities. There is another option—lean into the possibility of change—real change. I cannot tell you how often I hear couples lament their terrible relationship but never really seek lasting change. You comment about feeling blamed by your wife, but never mention whether you both have been responsible enough to seek the best counsel available. Real change does not come easily, or cheaply.

The scriptures instruct us to count the cost of an action. "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14:28) While this passage is often used to determine a church’s readiness to take on a building project, I think it could apply to the challenges of marriage. Marriage is never easy; there are difficulties, but we must face them responsibly. We must dig in, plough ahead, and seek guidance for true character and relational change. A seasoned counselor could help you both see your contributions to the issues. In-depth, lasting change is what is needed, and is possible, for both you and your wife. Perhaps it’s time for you to lead the way by initiating counseling.

I also wonder about you and your wife’s spiritual well-being. Are you two in prayer about your difficulties? Are you receiving nurturance and healing from the Great Physician? Listen to the Apostle Paul’s admonition to us: "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, overflowing in thankfulness" (Colossians 2:6). Can Christ sustain you even if your wife blames you? Yes. Can you continue your spiritual journey, finding meaning in even these dark times? I believe so.