Every marriage needs help. Perhaps yours, after a few months or years of marriage, needs help now. Or maybe any real difficulty in your relationship is far down the road. But at some time during a crisis or trial, every marriage will benefit from the counsel and care of someone on the “outside.”
In America, where we worship self-sufficiency, seeking help may seem shameful or weak to some people. But those who are teachable and follow Jesus know better. We understand our limitations—the frailty of our flesh and our inclination to sin. We understand that we need others, just as they need us.
This is the wonder of being part of the body of Christ: We don’t have to be totally self-sufficient and independent. When necessary, we can lean on the gifts and strengths of our brothers and sisters. The point is that every marriage needs assistance; it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Get it or bear the weighty consequences.
Tune-up help for your marriage
Although I believe that every marriage needs help, let me encourage you—especially if you are newly married—that things may not be as bad as they seem. Before concluding that your marriage is falling apart, commit to praying about the problem. Ask God for insight and help on the issue you’re struggling with.
Involvement with a local church and its members will only strengthen your marriage. Be proactive! Call a couple in your church and ask them to join you for lunch after Sunday worship. When couples get into trouble, especially early in marriage, they think they are the only ones in the world who have ever had this problem, whether it is finances, sex, communication, or in-laws. Meeting regularly with that couple over a period of six to twelve months may be all you need to work through an issue.
Another good idea for newly married couples is to spend time as individuals with another newly married person of the same sex. A kindred spirit will take some of the pressure off the marriage relationship. Women, who often have a higher need to talk about their feelings, may reap particular benefits from this idea. Marriage is a huge adjustment. Having the opportunity to share some of the built-up relational “heat” with someone on the outside will bring relief. It can be as simple as an occasional Saturday morning breakfast or lunch. But keep the discussion honoring to your mate, not a tear-down session.
Spending time with an older mentor of the same sex may also be very beneficial. During our third year of marriage, we moved to Dallas, our third move in as many years. Barbara hadn’t really found a close friend in the previous two locations, and she really needed a female friend to talk to. Eventually, she started meeting every other week with a woman who’d been married fifteen years.
I will never forget the look on Barbara’s face after one of her first meetings. It was the look of “I’m really not weird for feeling the way I feel.” She found out that some of the challenges and adjustments she was facing in our marriage were normal. Meeting with this woman lifted a huge burden off Barbara’s back. She no longer condemned herself or felt guilty for feeling what she was feeling. Even though I was telling her she was okay, it took a person of the same sex who could identify with what Barbara was feeling to reassure her fully.
Always focus on the positive as a couple. Review your marriage covenant or vows, which will remind you of the challenges and rewards of marriage. Our promises to each other are the anchor that holds us steady when the marital storms blow.
Above all, don’t wait until you are knee-deep in alligators in your marriage. Stay on the offensive in keeping your relationship tuned up.
Crisis help for your marriage
When is it time to get outside help for a marriage? That’s not an easy question to answer because every marriage has pain. And part of growing toward deeper intimacy is resolving conflict and differences in a loving manner. But just as a broken arm requires a trip to the emergency room, certain events in marriage require outside assistance. This list is not exhaustive, and even some of the things I’ve mentioned are somewhat subjective, but every couple needs to pay attention to these danger signs:
- Unceasing conflict, vicious arguing, and/or yelling, that never seems to get any better.
- No sex, unusual demands for particular sexual behavior by one partner, persistent unhappiness of one partner with the sexual relationship.
- Abuse—physical or verbal, either spouse to spouse or parent to child. Verbal abuse is often subtle. If one person consistently uses his or her words to demean, control, and shame the other, especially with high doses of anger, this is verbal abuse.
- Regular, complete shutdowns of communication that persist for more than a day or two, with core issues never getting resolved. By this, I mean a husband and wife barely talking to each other or merely exchanging brief sentences without emotional warmth.
- An extramarital affair—either physical or emotional.
- Pornography use.
- Drug or alcohol abuse by one or both spouses.
- Other obsessive, destructive behavior, such as uncontrolled spending with credit cards.
In prayer ask the Lord to reveal to you where you should seek help and godly advice: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked …” (Psalm 1:1). Call on your church to rescue your marriage. If that does not seem satisfactory, call another church; share with a trusted friend; call a hotline—local or national; call your folks; call your brother or sister; call a counselor. You get the point. Help is available, and the Lord will provide. But you must be willing to ask.
I recommend not seeking this help in a lawyer’s office. Many fine attorneys would work to help a couple through their difficulties and would even recommend against divorce. But many more make large sums of money from the divorce industry and would work to create an increasingly adversarial relationship between you and your spouse.
When you are in crisis, you can do the following:
- Be patient. Your mess probably took time to develop; it will take time to resolve. Men especially should heed this advice. We often want to fix a relational problem as we would repair a car: a two-hour tune-up at the service center. A guy may hover over his wife and not give her enough time and space. She needs to see and feel his love, not be bombarded with verbal promises. When couples are stuck in a rut, they hope a magic wand can be waved over their relationship that will bring instant healing and love forever. That’s not real life as God intended it to be. We grow through our struggles.
- Show your true heart. Too often when a husband and a wife are at odds, they allow the anger of the moment to cover up their true feelings. Don’t do that. Tell the truth: “I’m mad at you, but I still love you. I don’t want to break apart. I want you to know that I’m going to pray. I’m going to be teachable. I want to hear from God about my responsibility for this.”
- Remind your spouse of your commitment. A marriage covenant gives you the trust commitment that enables you to be real and solve problems. Without this covenant, your marriage is reduced to a contract that can be canceled at any time. Marriage is not a contract; it is a sacred and holy lifetime pledge to another.
- Pray for yourself, your spouse, and your relationship. Ask God for wisdom to handle your trials (James 1:2–8). Even when things are intense, do not stop praying with each other.
Marriage problems are not all bad. God can use such trouble in your marriage to drive you back to Him—the red light on the dashboard of your car letting you know that something is wrong, not on a physical or emotional level, but on a spiritual level.
Pain can cause you to go deeper in your relationship with each other. Early on, Barbara and I faced tough issues that could have broken our relationship. Not once, however, did we ever talk about quitting or getting a divorce. Our commitment to Jesus Christ and to each other saw us through. God will give you courage. He said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me” (Psalm 50:15).
Reprinted by permission from Starting Your Marriage Right by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, ©2000, Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.