You may think I’m about to talk about husbands who don’t do what you have been begging them to do, but I’m not. Mainly because you can’t make someone do what they don’t want to do. Oh, and as I’ve said a bunch of times before, you’re not your husband’s Holy Spirit. Or mom. So yeah.
But what I am going to talk about is the woman in a hard marriage who stays the woman in a hard marriage year after year, despite all her complaints.
Let me say upfront that what I’m not saying (and this should be obvious if you’ve read my blog for even five minutes) is that if you’re in a hard marriage and if you’re not happy and if you’ve got a list of complaints as long as your arm and if your husband is a complete jerk, that you should just up and leave the guy once and for all.
Umm, no. That’s not what I’m saying.
But what I am saying is this: you have options. In your pain and anger, you may not feel like you do, but you do, so let me lay them out for you.
Option #1: Keep doing everything the same way you’ve been doing it. Do not change. Do not look inward. Do not take responsibility for your part in your marriage’s current state. Do not course-correct. Do not take anyone’s advice. Do not ask for forgiveness. Do not make amends. Keep yelling. Keep crying. Keep complaining.
This is definitely one very viable option for you. And for some of you, you see it as the only option. And for some of you, and I don’t know why exactly, you will accept this as your plight and you will continue to live in a horrible marriage, as a victim, for the rest of your life. Listen, I say this one with absolute gentleness, because I did this. I was in a difficult relationship for almost twenty-three years. Willingly. Doing a lot of things wrong, and then doing them again and again. So, I’m not pointing fingers, sweet ones. I get it.
I so wish this weren’t the case for you though. I wish abundant life for you, even in the midst of your hard. I wish for changes for your relationship, even if they don’t look quite the way you’re hoping. I wish a shift in perspective for you, that you are not a victim. Baby girl, you are not your husband’s victim. You’re just not.
Option #1 sucks, because your life and marriage will stay hard, but I am fully acknowledging that it’s the easier of the two options. We know what we know. We’re comfortable with what has become our homeostasis even if our homeostasis is awful. (People are funny that way.)
Which leads to Option #2: Do some things differently.
Option #2 on the other hand is kind of amazing. It holds possibilities. It’s your key to kick-starting healing and wholeness. But, umm, it’s an uphill climb. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s the emotional equivalent of hiking Mount Kilimanjaro or something. It’s daunting, it’s hard work, but most worthwhile things in life are, if you think about it.
So if you are stuck, if you have been living an Option #1 life for months or years – or God bless you – decades, and you know you want something different for your marriage and your heart and your life, I am proud of you and I applaud you and I am behind you. Even better, the Spirit is behind you and for you. God wants you whole. God wants to bring transformation into your life.
So, pick one of these (or all!) and get changing:
- Read a different kind of marriage book. Not all Christian marriage books are created equally, in that most are written to the married couple doing fine without abuse or addiction or adultery issues. But you’re not doing fine. You need the big guns. So I’d choose one of these as a starting point:
The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick
How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong by Leslie Vernick
Boundaries in Marriage by Cloud & Townsend
Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage: Questions & Suggestions by Elisabeth Klein
- Get into counseling. Yes, you can go to marriage counseling alone. I did it on and off for years. Anytime you take a step to work on yourself, you can’t help but change the dynamics in your marriage. It might be turbulent, and it might stir up the yuck a bit more at first, but the end results will be a more whole you.
- Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you can be working on, what areas of your marriage you can tweak, what ways you can speak more kindly or serve or hold your tongue. He will, gently.
You can keep doing what you’re doing, but then please do not be surprised if nothing changes and you remain in a sad, hard marriage. But change can come when you decide to make a change. Don’t Option-#1 yourself through life. Let God bring healing.
God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. –Psalm 147:3
If this post encouraged you, you’d benefit from “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage” found here.
Another GREAT article!! thanks Elisabeth! This whole process – whether you stay or go – is flat out hard work and it takes a long time. After 3 years away from my former husband – 2 1/2 years of those divorced – I’m just NOW getting to the point of being able to be up front with my boundaries with my in-laws. I’ve set boundaries, but now I can talk it out with them without losing my emotional stability. My former MIL invited me and the boys to dinner tonight, because we are leaving town to be with my family on Wednesday. She wanted to invite my ex. And I told her, if he comes, I won’t. No need in play acting like we’re one big happy family. Those days are over. She is in her mama role and trying to make sure her son sees his children. I was even bold enough to remind her that it isn’t her job to do that. That is between my boys and their dad. In short, I don’t have to cook tonight, and that’s great! I can take my time getting ready to go out of town and not have left-overs to put in the freezer. I’m pulling up my big girl pants and getting healthy. And it hurts, and sometimes I don’t like it, and it’s hard work. But God has abundant life waiting for me, and He has provided a way for me to reach out to Him and walk into that life!! What a MIGHTY GOD we serve!!
This was a great article!!! I’m halfway through “World Split Open” and I think Julianne needs to read this article at this point in her journey. She should pick up one of those books with big guns because Heaven knows her pastor isn’t much help.
Dannielle, this is one of my favorite comments EVER! 🙂
Amen! It can be such a slow process to get from option #1 to option #2, but crucial I think. For a long time it seemed to me that I had no option but option #1 . I’d say I was in option #1 for seven years (after 12 years of marriage) and have been working towards option #2 for the last two years. I feel so much more peace.
I fell into all three of your recommendations for getting out of option #1 and they have helped tremendously. I had read Christian marriage books but they weren’t helpful and the recommended behaviors just made things worse. Your list is a great starting point. I started seeing a counselor who specializes in working with addiction and abuse, and also is part of my faith tradition. While in option #1 I’d seen two other counselors, who were empathetic but couldn’t offer me good coping strategies to deal with my husband’s behavior. And prayer – always – but not with the expectations I once had.
As a side note, one of my counselors during my seven years of option #1 recommended that I pray for a crisis leading to a conversion of heart. It was his experience that men like my husband would not change on their own, but a crisis could push a man like him into growth. After three years of this prayer we’d had three crises – primarily focused on him, but I got the crises too. No conversion of heart. I now pray just for a conversion of heart – I really don’t want to ask for more crises. 🙂