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Facing the Giants in Your Marriage

By Greg Smalley
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five smooth stones and a sling
© pamela_d_mcadams/Adobe Stock
Some marriage challenges seem too big to handle. If you're facing giants in your marriage, here's a battle plan to help you defeat them.

On the surface, Leah and Brandon couldn’t have been more different. She was a wild, crazy extrovert. He was a solid and steady introvert. They seemed an unlikely pair, and you’d be forgiven if you glanced at them and thought they had nothing in common.

They might have assumed so, too — until they actually talked to each other. That first conversation proved how much they were alike: They had so much in common on a heart and mind level that it didn’t take long for the pair to become inseparable. Each felt like the other was the puzzle piece they’d been missing for a long time.

“I remember consciously thinking to myself, Oh, this is different. This is what I should be doing versus my previous cycle with destructive men,” Leah said. “I knew almost immediately it was just a matter of time before we would be married.”

It was just a matter of time. But it was also just a matter of time before their differences caused problems. Everything was wonderful until their third year of marriage.

“Throughout year three, we fought all the time and never saw eye to eye,” Leah said (with Brandon’s knowledge). “All our differences … felt like major issues for us — highlighting the flaws we saw in each other. We weren’t meeting each other halfway on anything, and I often felt like I picked the wrong person, and, honestly, I didn’t want to be married anymore. Still, I knew God was telling me to hang in there.”

Facing giants requires persistence

Sometimes the best marriage advice comes down to those three simple words: Hang in there.

It’s not easy. When marriage problems and challenges feel insurmountable, it can require the courage that David had when he faced Goliath.  

I can imagine how lonely and beat down David must have felt as he stood before the giant who looked unbeatable. No one believed in the young shepherd. King Saul only saw his youth and inexperience. David’s oldest brother questioned his motives and berated him. Mighty Goliath mocked him: “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” (1 Samuel 17:43). And yet, David stood before the champion, armed with only a simple slingshot and five smooth stones.

Fighting for your marriage is hard. Sometimes the problems you face seem huge — too big and too powerful to overcome. Giants can appear in all shapes and sizes: from infidelity to in-laws; pornography to pride.

And often when we try to face these giants, we fight other obstacles behind the battle lines, just like David.  You and your spouse may need to overcome years of unhealthy relationship patterns. Your spouse may resist change. Well-intended people might give you or your spouse bad advice. Satan attempts to write cruel messages on your heart: “It’s all your fault!” “You’ll never be good enough!” “You’re not worth being fought for!” All these things can make you feel alone.

Facing giants requires courage

I love the Matt Damon movie We Bought a Zoo. My favorite scene is when Matt Damon’s character encourages his fearful son to ask out the girl he likes: “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage … 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great will come of it.”

Insane courage. Embarrassing bravery. That’s what it takes. Why? Marriage is risky because it requires vulnerability. In order to work through challenges, you have to give your spouse access to the most vulnerable part of you — your heart. You have no guarantee of how he or she will handle your heart. If you open it, will you be unconditionally loved and accepted? After seeing the real you — all of your flaws, imperfections and mistakes — will you be cherished and protected?

Vulnerability leaves us open to hurt. But it’s the only way we can open ourselves up for healing and reconciliation. As author Robert Liparulo says: “Bravery is not the absence of fear but the forging ahead despite being afraid.”

But remember — as you face your marriage giants — you are not alone.

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Facing giants requires God’s help

Remember how the book of Matthew describes God – Immanuel – “God with us.” 

God is with you. This was the source of David’s courage. David had experienced God’s faithfulness firsthand, and Goliath wasn’t the first time. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37). David knew deep in his heart that his true power wasn’t the sling and five stones, it was his Heavenly Father. When you place your trust and faith in God, He will guide and protect you. He will be with you during each step of your marriage journey.

So, if David was convinced of God’s help, why did he pick up five stones (1 Samuel 17:40) if he needed only one?

The most likely answer is that David was, as we read at gotquestions.org, “simply being prepared. What if the Philistines attacked him after he killed Goliath? How would he defend himself? … [H]e couldn’t have known if one stone would be enough to kill the giant.”

The same is true for your marriage. It would be wonderful if one stone — one difficult, healing conversation, one big change or one eye-opening experience — would save your marriage. But that’s not often the case. Growth and change don’t happen overnight. As you battle for your marriage, you may have to fight longer and harder than expected. You’ll need more stones.

Facing giants requires hope

It took Leah and Brandon years (and many stones) to have a marriage they love. They went to couples counseling. They invested in each other daily. They were deeply committed to each other and dependent on God. They didn’t just hurl one stone at their marriage troubles. It took a constant peppering of love and effort. But, in the end, the giant fell.

As Leah later explained, the risk of opening her heart to Brandon was worth the effort:

There is so much beauty in hanging in there. There is the deepest and realest love you’ll ever know on the other side. Marriage is work, but the work is worth it. And here, in year six of marriage, all those things that felt like crazy differences before, don’t matter as much anymore, because we’ve grown so much together. Grown with and toward one another. I’m not saying there’s not a reason to get divorced. There are non-negotiables, for sure. But, believe me when I tell you the best things are worth fighting for. Do the work. Go to counseling. Choose each other with your actions each day. That’s what love is.

You might use other stones: a strong support network of friends and family and individual counseling to help you deal with your own junk.

“But Greg,” you say, “what if my spouse doesn’t want to fight? How long do I keep fighting for my marriage?”

I’m not suggesting that you stay indefinitely when your spouse has no interest in getting help or refuses to deal with the issues that are hurting you and your marriage. David didn’t have an unlimited number of stones; he had five. Make this part of your prayer time. Ask God how long He wants you to keep fighting. There is no magical number of days. No one has the right to tell you when you’ve reached the end of your stones. That is between you and God.

But, don’t lose heart! Take courage and face the giants that come against your marriage. Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and enough smooth stones to make that courage count. 

© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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About the Author

dr greg smalley vp of marriage
Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as president of the …

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