The Path from a Dead Marriage to a Healthy Marriage
No marriage is perfect. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise since marriages are made up of two imperfect sinners who fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
But it is easy to believe the grass is greener on the other side when we scroll through social media and see photos of seemingly happy married couples.
If we could pull back the curtains, we would likely see couples going through different seasons of marriage.
Although I’m not a big fan of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, he does provide good imagery for the seasons many marriages progress through (sometimes repeatedly).
- “Spring is where most marriages begin […] The excitement of creating a new life together is not exclusively for newlyweds.”
- “Fun is the theme of a summer marriage […] Life is beautiful and reaping benefits of efforts to understand each other. Spouses share a deep sense of commitment, satisfaction, and security in each other’s love.”
- “[Fall] marriages look fine externally; outsiders may even comment on how happy the couple seems to be. Yet inside the marriage, things are changing.”
- “Winter marriages are characterized by coldness, harshness, and bitterness. The dreams of spring are covered with layers of ice.”
The problem with winter marriages is how hopeless the couple feels.
They don’t see the rebirth of spring on the horizon. Their marriage feels dead.
Many of these couples get divorced.
According to the American Psychological Association, “About 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce.”
It doesn’t have to be this way.
There is a path from a dead marriage to a healthy marriage.
It starts and ends by placing God at the center of your life.
Let’s talk about what that looks like in a marriage.
Your Spouse Is Not Your Savior
One reason a marriage sours is unmet expectations. Many people expect their spouse to be everything they need, but this’s impossible.
Your spouse is not your savior.
When you hold your spouse to an impossible standard, things are bound to sour.
Paul David Tripp compares this idea to focusing on physical bread rather than the Bread of Life.
We want our spouse to satisfy our needs, but only faith in Jesus Christ will truly satisfy us.
Tripp explains, “People whose eyes are just on the physical bread will end up devouring each other because the physical bread alone cannot ever satisfy. You will be a parasite on your mate, sucking his or her blood: but he or she will never, ever, give you enough.”
Instead, your relationship with Christ should influence your marriage.
Tripp continues, “If your hunger is for [Jesus Christ], your marriage will bring wonderful opportunities for mutual growth and sanctification. […] In the end you and your spouse will look more like Christ and be much closer to him.”
Follow Christ’s Example
We are often looking for practical tips and tricks to fix our marriages, but the best tip is to follow Christ’s example.
Ephesians 5:33 says, “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
Christ died on the cross for the church.
To repair a broken marriage, try loving your spouse enough that you’d be willing to die for her/him, which means putting his/her needs above your own.
In Romantic Conflict: Embracing Desires That Bless Not Bruise by Brad Hambrick, the author focuses on how one must be willing to prioritize his or her spouse by putting personal desires aside.
Hambrick suggests, “Take joy in being the hand and voice of God in the life of the person you love most. […] As you ‘lose your life for his sake’ to bless your spouse, undoubtedly you will discover that you have found the ‘life’ (enjoyment) you thought you were sacrificing.”
Love Is a Verb – Not a Feeling
Now, if you are in a winter marriage, you may be thinking that the previous suggestion is impossible because you believe you have lost those loving feelings.
But love isn’t a feeling. Love is an action.
Moreover, it is a gospel command.
Jay E. Adams explains, “Love is not feeling first. Before all else, it is the determination to do good for another person because God has told you to do so. Love begins, therefore, with a desire to please God. Love toward another is a willingness to give him whatever you have that he needs, because you know that God wants you to. Where true love exists, the feeling follows soon enough.”
The Bible commands us to love our God, love our neighbor, and even to love our enemies.
Even if you feel no love for your spouse and view your spouse as your enemy, you are commanded to act lovingly towards him or her.
Another way to follow Christ’s example in your marriage is to practice forgiveness regularly.
As mentioned at the beginning, a marriage is made up of two sinners. Forgiveness will be necessary.
Spouses should seek forgiveness and grant forgiveness as a normal part of behavior in their relationship.
Forgiveness is challenging – even for the mature Christian, but, like love, we are commanded to forgive.
If you need more help with forgiveness (for yourself or others) see our blogs on the topic of forgiveness.
When a marriage sours, it is easy to focus solely on your needs and how your spouse has not met those needs. You need to do just the opposite.
Brad Hambrick writes, “The biggest obstacle to being a great spouse stares at each of us from the mirror every morning. […] A great marriage is hard for the same reason that the Christian life is hard: it requires us to deny ourselves and to accept by faith that change is needed and that God offers something better – in terms of quality, quantity, method, and sustainability – than our natural selves would pursue.”
Live Gospel-Centered Lives
Ultimately, real, sustaining change will only happen when you begin to live a gospel-centered life.
This means you recognize that even when your spouse isn’t the most loving, you still look for and believe God’s promises.
It means choosing healthy conflict over sinful discord.
It means prioritizing Christ first and your relationship second.
Gary Chapman says, “The purpose of life is to know God and to bring glory and honor to his name. For most people, marriage enhances the possibility of achieving this objective.”
When a couple lives a gospel-centered marriage, they become incredible witnesses to the world – especially in a world where divorce runs rampant.
As Jay Adams writes, “Every married Christian has both the privilege and the obligation to exhibit the relationship between Christ and the church.”
As you show love to your spouse (even when he or she may not deserve it), you are demonstrating God’s love and grace to those around you.