4 Ways to Wreck Even the Strongest Marriage

John Van Pay

One night I came home to find my wife standing in the kitchen with four suitcases packed and waiting. Stephanie said, “I’m done. You’re a great youth pastor, but you’re not home enough to be a good husband and daddy. The kids never see you. Last month you were home only three nights. I won’t do it by myself anymore. I’m taking the kids back home to Houston. Pick us or the church.” Her gut punch was a reality check. No matter how defensive I felt, she was right. I failed. We had already been through so much together, eleven years of marriage, three kids, the near-drowning of our firstborn daughter, but still I knew I had not worked to love my wife as Christ loved the Church. I determined to repent and to be a better husband and father.

Below are four common patterns that, if practiced, will wreck your marriage.

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1. Lose Your First Love

Jesus is the greatest marriage counselor. He defines love as unselfish in John 15:3. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Love always chooses the highest good of others. Let love be the defining attribute in your life. Jesus also gives great advice on how you can reignite your first love with Him in Revelation 2:4-5. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” Our works and service come out as a natural overflow from our love for God.

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2. Stay Out Five Nights a Week

Church planting is possibly one of the most challenging ministry assignments, but it saved my marriage. Planting a church meant I could set my own schedule.

While preparing for a career change after Stephanie gave me a second chance, I read “Confessions of a Pastor”[1] by Craig Groeschel. He revealed a core value that totally shifted my point of view and brought my marriage back into alignment. He recommended making the immovable decision to, no matter what, stay home from ministry five nights a week. I was shocked. I didn’t think that was allowed in ministry.

It wasn’t all roses. Saying yes meant saying no to ministry—over again. In the early years of starting my church, Gateway Fellowship Church, it meant declining many invitations to parties and dinners. It was hard, but worth it. God honored our ministry sacrifice because we were putting each other first. It also helped to keep our church philosophy simple by not allowing extraneous events or programs to fill our schedules. By streamlining our ministries to only include the essential, we found extra time to pour into our families and develop a desire for quality instead of quantity in serving our church family. Seeing the fruit in our own lives, we made it an expectation for our directors and pastors to honor the same core value of staying home five nights a week. We’re so grateful we belong to the most amazing church family who respects and even encourages this boundary. 

[1] Confessions of a Pastor: Adventures in Dropping the Pose and Getting Real with God / Craig Groeschel / Publisher: Multnomah Books; 1st edition (September 30, 2006)

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3. Never Go to Counseling

The third way to wreck your marriage is never ask for help when things get tough. Where is your greatest source of help? It’s made clear in the Word of God. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2) Grab ahold of your spouse and pray. Cry out to God for help. The Holy Spirit is available every moment of every day to guide you into truth. Prayer softens the heart and the attitude and tone of your inner voice. It places you in the posture necessary to hear from the Lord and prepares you to be slow to speak and quick to listen. May the Lord be who you consult first when you encounter the obstacles ahead. 

God offers help through His perfect, wise counsel.

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A note about counseling:

Busyness, insecurity, and finances are not good enough reasons for avoiding counseling. Just as a garden will become overgrown and wild without regular pruning and gardening, every couple needs regular counseling “checkups” for tweaks and adjustments before the inevitable happens and crisis overwhelms the marriage. Pastor Rick Warren says it’s better to go into debt from marriage counseling than pay lawyer fees. Before things go nuclear, get help.

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4. Expect Perfection

Marriage, like any relationship, gets messy at times. You’re not perfect, so don’t expect perfection. Conflict is not a matter of if, but when. Redeem the moments of failure and human error. How you respond to the mess will determine how you finish.  Sometimes you don’t realize the gravity of expecting perfection from your partner. Sometimes you don’t see it for what it truly is. If you expect perfection, you don’t understand the reality of the fallen nature of humanity, and, like me, Abraham and Sarah, you will be tempted with an improper object of affection—an idol—but this one, if left unchecked, will lead to disappointment. Don’t make your spouse an idol. Adjust expectations and keep them off the throne of your heart. Instead, direct your gaze to Jesus and constantly forgive as Christ forgave you. 

On the other hand, just as you can treasure each other too much, you can also neglect. Never ever take each other for granted. You are not promised tomorrow. Pray together and for each other.

Make a list of everything you appreciate in your spouse, then make another list of all your favorite memories you created together. When things get tough and you’re tempted to quit, pull out those lists and give thanks to the One who put the two of you together. A grateful heart will get you through anything. 

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And finally, above all...

Never quit on each other. Besides Himself, your spouse is the greatest gift God has given you. And you are a gift from God to your spouse—act like one. Stay committed. Enjoy the rewards from longevity in a Christ-centered marriage. Leave a legacy of faithfulness for your children and your grandchildren. Their heritage of faith will be a crown upon your head. “Train up a child in the way they should go; and when they are old they will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) Words are powerful, but it’s not enough to just declare your love. Instead, live your life out as an example of Godly unity and your love for each other will never fade. Remember, God put you in your spouse’s life because He knew you’d be better together. 

John Van Pay is the founding and lead pastor of Gateway Fellowship Church ( in San Antonio, Texas, the fastest growing church in America in 2016.. He is the author of a new Regnery Faith book titled Marathon Faith: Motivation from the Greatest Endurance Runners of the Bible.  For more information visit

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