Wouldn't it be great if all we had to do was pursue God and this effort became the ticket to a "perfect" marriage?
As I listen to and empathize with couples in my counseling practice, one spouse often asks something like: "If I'm pursuing God daily, why am I unhappy in my marriage?" The couple feels disappointment that their commitment to God hasn’t yielded a deep connection in their marriage.
One couple in particular felt this disappointment. Barb and John (not their real names) had been married for 20 years and were blessed with four children. Their youngest child was now 15, and they realized that soon it would be just the two of them. They had been active in their church and had strong spiritual lives as individuals. However, they each felt angst when it came to the thought of empty nesting. They described their marriage as "decent," yet over the years they had been through medical challenges, difficulties with a daughter who was not thriving in school, several financial crises and what they considered to be the "typical run-of-the-mill stuff" that any couple deals with. Yet they often felt more like roommates than lovers. They both felt unsatisfied with their level of connection and wanted more. They came to counseling, not because of a crisis, but to deepen their relationship.
No matter how strong your faith, Scripture promises that difficult seasons ensue for couples:"Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles" (1 Corinthians 7:28).
Those troubles often come from within the marriage. One such challenge is a lack of emotional and spiritual connection in marriage. Spouses can each have an individual relationship with the Lord — filled with head knowledge about God's Word — but not take it to a heart level or a relational level.
Troubles aren't meant to destroy our marriage, but to draw us closer together and to God. Through this process, marital grit is formed, and as you reminisce about all you have sustained as a couple, you will be amazed at the adventures you have navigated together.
Accepting the challenge
What can you do to bridge the gap between having a good relationship with God and knowing how to nurture a healthy marriage? Here are some tips:
Expect spiritual warfare. Your marriage has an enemy. Satan works tirelessly to destroy your oneness and unity with your spouse.
Be intentional about how you deal with challenges. If you face issues communicating with your spouse (name-calling, using unkind words or blaming each other), this behavior will have a negative impact on your marriage. Instead, face the challenges together as a team from a unified front, because "two are better than one" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Don't avoid the issues, but work through them together in loving and kind ways.
As far as it depends on you, live at peace (Romans 12:18). Focus on what you can control and have the greatest influence over — yourself. You may have tried to change, manipulate or coerce your marriage partner into certain behaviors or certain ways of thinking — but it just doesn't work. Instead, pour yourself into being a healthy individual, and let God lead you to the next move with your spouse.
Keep your heart open and well cared for. You are responsible for the state of your heart. Our heart opens and closes many times throughout one day because of hurts, comments, conflicts or even exhaustion. Take your thoughts and emotions to the Lord. He can help you manage the state of your heart. Proverbs 4:23 sums up this sentiment: Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life (HCSB).
Continue investing in your marriage. Marriage is a worthwhile investment. With the busyness and chaos during different seasons, invest in your marriage through shared adventures and making time to chat each day at a heart-to-heart level.
Get help when needed. If you recognize that the struggles or difficult seasons linger, don't be afraid to get help from a licensed Christian counselor. You can learn amazing insights about yourself, your spouse and your marriage. Surround yourselves with other couples who have a growth focus, too. Together, you can fight for your marriage and stand in the gap with others.Erin Smalley serves as the strategic spokesperson for Focus on the Family's marriage ministry and develops content for that department.