Every day we hear heartbreaking stories of marriages failing and falling apart. These couples had the greatest intentions when starting out, but somehow, life left their marriages broken and their hearts tattered.
When we hear these gut-wrenching stories, we often think, “Please, Lord… don’t let that happen to my marriage.”
While it would be impossible (and arrogant!) to assume that every marriage follows a particular pattern, I would argue that many marriages that are in trouble show one or more of the signs that I’m going to mention in this post.
Do you see these happening in your marriage? For the health of your marriage, I encourage you to read through this list with an open and honest heart.
Note: I purposely based these “marriage warning signs” around scriptural truths. If you see this happening in your marriage, I highly encourage you to meditate on these biblical truths for more wisdom and application for your particular situation! Also, physical or mental abuse are definite signs of a marriage in trouble. I’d advise that you seek immediate help should this describe your marriage.
1. You don’t desire to serve your spouse or to put them first.
“Serving our spouses”: that phrase seems almost taboo or, at the very least counter-cultural.
And yet, we are called to sacrificially love our spouses (Ephesians 5) everyday, whether that’s physically serving them or allowing their opinions to be as valuable as our own (Philippians 2:3-4) when making decisions.
In fact, sacrificial love—which includes letting our spouses have their way, or choosing to bless them without a guarantee of return—is the exact type of love that we signed up to do when we chose to get married (1 Corinthians 13).
I hear you. We think, “Why should I serve them when they do XYZ, when they don’t treat me right, or when I know they won’t serve me back in return?”
But here’s the thing: rending yourself unable to love them “until” (until they treat you correctly, etc.) means that you are shortchanging the beautiful example of sacrificial love that God designed for marriage.
And bottom line, this inability to unconditionally serve your spouse will severely limit the closeness between the two of you and stifle God’s desire to use marriage to grow you in holiness.
Your spouse doesn’t have to “deserve” your unconditional love in order for you to give it. In fact, that’s the very definition of unconditional love and the foundation of grace itself.
In fact, there are many, many times in marriage where we must choose to love our spouses not out of emotion or condition, but because of our decision to love them as Christ has called us to. These moments are a very real reminder that we aren’t really serving our spouses in marriage but God Himself!
Marriage can be selfish and very much “tit for tat,” but it will also be stifled and headed for trouble when performed under these conditions.
If you see signs of this in your marriage, consider these verses:
“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord…As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word…In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love her himself. .. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:22, 24-26, 28, 33)
“An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. but a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34)
2. You care less and less about your spouse’s opinions or desires.
Let’s be frank—sometimes our spouses annoy us! They may drive us crazy with their opinions or what may feel like a demand on our time.
We all have moments where we’d rather push our spouse’s opinions aside and think, “I have to do what everyone else wants all day long at work, school, etc. At least in my own home, I want to have my own way!”
While I’m not advocating that we dismiss our feelings or don’t give validity to our emotions, it’s dangerous to a marriage when we habitually choose to not weigh our spouse’s opinions as important as our own.
Why? Because friendship is the foundation of every marriage. A strong friendship isn’t self-seeking, but seeks to bless and help the other person, which sometimes results in sacrificing our own opinions and desires in order to maintain peace or demonstrate love (1 Corinthians 13).
That’s why when we dismiss our spouse’s feelings as unimportant, we are hurting the friendship with our spouse, and by default, damaging our marriage.
Be careful of this secret marriage destroyer! It is a sneaky tactic the enemy uses to slowly erode even the strongest marriages!
Here are a few scriptures with more insight on the topic:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
“Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24)
“Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interest, but take an interest in others too.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
3. Unresolved conflict has built in your marriage and forgiveness seems difficult.
It’s normal for arguments to happen in marriage. We are, after all, two imperfect beings living together in tight quarters (often with other little people adding to our stress)!
But the real question is, “What do we do with those conflicts?”
I think of unresolved tension in marriage like a pair of really dirty eyeglasses. Every time we have an argument or issue between us, our glasses (the lens of how we see each other) can get clouded and covered over with smudges, dirt and other debris.
If we don’t remove those “smudges” immediately through forgiveness and reconciliation, it becomes harder to see our spouses clearly (and it certainly becomes difficult to love and serve them unconditionally)!
When these lenses are clouded, we don’t want to forgive because it seems too difficult, too extreme. That one little issue we had last week has compounded with that other issue from today (plus that reoccurring thing that drives us crazy!) and before we know it, our hearts have shut down and our marriage is slowly dying.
As hard as it seems, we must get to the root of our emotions and deal with these issues quickly with our spouses. We can’t let things linger because of this compounding effect.
We must create the habit of dealing with these issues immediately and moving on so that our marriages can operate freely and not be smothered by unresolved conflict.
While these Bible verses speak about conflict in friendship, they certainly are applicable to marriage since friendship is the base of a strong marriage. They speak about the importance of forgiving quickly for the sake of peace, and of the importance of grace.
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
“Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil… Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, 31-32)
“Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)
“An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.” (Proverbs 18:19)
“(Love) is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)
4. Physical intimacy is non-existent or done with a lustful heart.
I’ve found in my marriage that our sex life is a good indicator of our overall marital health. Do you find these aspects true in your marriage too? Consider this:
When my husband and I are tired and too busy for intimate time together, our marriage just doesn’t seem as close overall.
- When there aren’t huge emotional barriers between my husband and I, sex is easy and feels like a time of deep emotional connection.
At the same time, I’ve also seen how sex can be a beautiful balm of reconciliation when we’re going through tough times. Many times, I feel like sexual intimacy “resets” the connection in my marriage.
I share this to say that sex is intended to be an emotional (not just physical) investment in each other, and when a couple reduces it down to a physical act (or they don’t make love regularly), they are short-changing their marital growth and connection.
Many of us let this aspect of marriage slowly erode, and quite frankly, it’s easy to do so! Besides being “too busy” or “too tired,” here are some other potential reasons why physical intimacy may be lacking:
We ignore sex because we are no longer attracted to our spouse because of physical changes they’ve undergone.
We’ve been emotionally wounded in other areas (by our spouse or others) and sex seems unthinkable.
Pornography or affairs have invaded the marriage and broken trust.
- We have sex with our spouse, but the intimacy is gone and sex simply has become a physical release devoid of relational connection.
We can’t allow the enemy to use our busy-ness or our emotional scars to keep our marriage from this most vital form of connection.
Sex is important to God (the entire book of the Song of Solomon is about this physical connection between a husband and wife!) and he encourages us to “keep the marriage bed pure” (Hebrews 13:4) and to “not abstain from each other” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
5. You’re no longer making regular, intentional investments in your marriage.
We enter marriage with hearts full of hope and excitement because we’ve spent hours investing in our relationship (think date nights, time alone to talk, etc).
Then we get married, and suddenly as the years go by (and we become distracted by other good things like a career, kids, or even ministry), our marriage may not seem as bright and shiny with optimism anymore. In fact, it may seem lackluster and simply limp along as we focus the bulk of our emotional energies toward other pursuits.
That’s why date nights and regular scheduled time alone together are so important! We must make intentional investments in our relationship should we want them to stay vibrant and growing.
Consider this: Do your thoughts, actions and schedule demonstrate that you’ve allowed a career, kids (or other potentially good things) to come before your marriage?
It’s so easy to let this happen! And we can come up with a thousand excuses, but we must find creative ways to intentionally invest in our marriages.
Here are four ideas:
Take 15 minutes to chat each day (here’s what my husband and I do)
Plan regular date nights
Plan weekends away/vacations
- Invest in other intentional time together (such as participating in a hobby or home improvement projects together)
You’ll also love this list of 125 ways to say “I love you” to your spouse.
Hebrews 13:4 tells us to “give honor to marriage and remain faithful to one another in marriage.” We must nurture our relationships in order to honor them and to stay faithful!
What to Do When You Discover That Your Marriage Exhibits These Signs
I know these are heavy and difficult-to-discuss topics!
Please know that I’m praying for you if you’ve read those and realized that, yes, your marriage may be headed for trouble.
Can I challenge you to take these next steps?
1. Pray for clarity and deep understanding of what’s going on. Ask God for His great wisdom about what’s really going on in your marriage!
2. Admit to your part in contributing to these situations. As the old saying goes, “It takes two to tango.” Yes, your spouse plays a part but you probably play a role too. I know we don’t like to think that, but we have to be truthful.
3. Receive His forgiveness and hope for your marriage. God wants to forgive us and to restore our marriages! There is always, always, always hope.
4. Lay aside the blame you feel for your spouse and ask God to help you love them “despite.” This takes time and perhaps many humble pleas from a broken heart, but allow God to show you little things you can do each day to love them “despite” their flaws.
5. Continue to process the emotions with God, repeating these steps (and asking a wise friend or counselor for help, if necessary). This is not easy! And it won’t be solved with a quick-fix solution. We must persevere through the process of making huge changes, taking baby steps toward the goal.
We’re all given a choice everyday as to whether we will work to grow or to destroy our marriages.
I know these issues can seem huge and insurmountable!
But if you find yourself seeing several signs that your marriage may be headed for trouble, don’t be overwhelmed by the huge mess you may see.
Get help and make those first baby steps today toward hope and healing.
Alicia Michelle, author, speaker and blogger at YourVibrantFamily.com, is passionate about helping women discover their beautifully imperfect journey through parenting, marriage, homeschooling, faith and homemaking. She’s also happily married homeschool mom of four curious and amazing kids who keep her on her toes!
Alicia is the author of the books Plan to Be Flexible and the Back to School Survival Manual. She also teaches the online video courses “7 Days to a Less Angry Mom,” and “bloom: A Journey to Joy (and Sanity) for Homeschool Moms”.
Publication date: June 24, 2016