We enter into marriage with excitement and hope for the future. We dream about homes, children, travels, and fun. We have great plans for how we hope it will all go. However, we soon realize marriage is harder than we ever expected it to be. We run into difficulties that are bigger than we imagined. We find ourselves struggling with things we never knew existed. Marriage is wonderful…and hard…and marriage help is out there.
Sometimes marriage is just hard and lonely. Sometimes it’s painful. But don’t worry, it’s never hopeless. Yes, it’s hard but you can do hard things. And with some work, we can bring back the excitement, dreams, and plans we had when we first began.
Why should we even try to make our marriage better?
God created marriage and has used this union to do incredible things. For one, a healthy marriage gives us a picture of our relationship with God.
Ephesians 5|31-32, says, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
Through marriage, we can see a picture of the love, commitment, and peace that we have with God. Some have said God uses our marriage to make us holy, not happy.
Now, I am all for a happy marriage but in my 17 years of marriage, I definitely have had to grow … a lot! Marriage requires us to grow in things such as unconditional love, forgiveness, and perseverance. God uses marriage to help us reflect on our relationship with Him. For example, when I feel like my spouse isn’t spending enough quality time with me, I’m able to stop and wonder if that is how God is feeling about me.
Because marriage is a picture of our relationship with God and is a tool God uses to make us more like Him, a healthy marriage can bring hope to the world. In unity with our spouse, we can experience an incredible relationship with God, we can love others, and we can help people understand the unconditional love and sacrifice of Jesus. Through marriage, God can do some really beautiful work in both our lives and in others’ lives. So, even when it is really hard, it is worth allowing God to help us make it better.
What the Bible teaches us about marriage
God knew we were going to need some instructions on this wonderfully difficult union, and He left plenty of them in the Bible.
1 | No one should break the union
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
2 | Love God first
Jesus said that our first command is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12|30). If we do not put effort into loving God, we will not be able to love our spouse well.
3 | “Love your neighbor (or spouse) AS yourself” (Mark 12|:31)
We are commanded to love others as well as ourselves. We must do both of these in a healthy way.
4 | Love and Respect your spouse
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands … husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5|22-25)
What do you do with the hurt you’re carrying from your marriage?
What do we do when so much has already happened in our marriage and there is so much hurt?
First, we can fall at Jesus’ feet and ask for forgiveness from God and from our spouse. Next, we offer forgiveness to our spouse. We agree to start again.
Sometimes we have to start again and again and again. Yes, the Bible even talks about this. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18|21-22).
Yes, we are asked to forgive our spouse over and over and over again. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should continue in unhealthy ways of living, but the forgiveness of the past needs to be extended. I am truly thankful that God continues to forgive me over and over and over again. (Remember when I said marriage is a picture of our relationship with God? Yep, this is part of it!)
After forgiveness, we can ask God to help in the healing of our heart and of our relationship. Throughout the Bible, God has a powerful way of restoring relationships (that’s basically the whole point of the Bible). So … forgiveness, ask for healing, and then … surrender. Surrender it all to God. Let Him have it. Let God be in control.
When we forgive, ask God for help, and surrender our marriage, we will begin the healing process. Remember that it won’t happen all at once, it’s a process, so be patient. The continued healing will happen when we practice forgiving, asking, and surrendering on a daily basis.
Practical tips! Ways to improve your marriage
These are things we can do every day to strengthen our marriages. You can start this right now!
1 | Pray
If you want to have a successful marriage, you must humble yourself and ask for God’s help through prayer so you can win everyday battles.
A great example in Scripture of how much God wants us to rely on Him is found in Exodus 17. Joshua commanded the Israelites for the first time in battle. As the Israelites fought, Moses raised his hands and prayed, and God began answering his prayer by giving them the victory. But when Moses grew weary and let his hands drop to his sides, the enemy gained the upper hand. When Moses raised his hands back up, the battle turned.
“As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites (the enemy) were winning” (v. 11) Prayer was not supplemental to winning the battle; it was instrumental. Prayer is vital to a strong marriage foundation. It’s not optional, it’s necessary. It’s life or death. Prayer was the only hope for Moses and it is the only hope for us.
2 | Take care of yourself
God knew that it is imperative to love ourselves before we are capable of loving others. If we love someone, we ought to take care of them. However, we are not able to take care of others if we do not first take care of ourselves.
The Bible instructs us to “Love your neighbor AS yourself” (Mark 12|31). Are you taking care of your relational, physical, mental, and spiritual health? If so, you will be able to love your spouse by taking care of them as well.
3 | Create a safe space to listen and look for the root of the conflict
Conflict is going to happen. You and your spouse are humans with needs and opinions. When these needs aren’t met, hurt happens and when people are hurt, we get scared. And when we get scared, we either want to fight or run away. This is a natural response, but not helpful for handling conflict with our spouse.
First, we must feel safe. A spouse will feel safe when they feel heard and understood. It’s easy to get defensive when hearing how our spouse feels, but asking for God’s help to listen and ask curious questions will help us move in a positive direction to handle conflict.
After clearly listening and hearing our spouse, looking for the root of the problem is key. God is creative and people are definitely different, but on the flip side of the coin, we often need similar things such as love and respect. (Husbands love your wives, wives respect your husbands). Creating a safe space allows each of us to be able to be honest, vulnerable, and find the solution to the real problem.
1 Corinthians 13|4-8 explains what love should look and feel like. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preservers. Love never fails.”
If this is applied when handling conflicts, our marriage would greatly benefit.
4 | Spend quality time
Going back to how our marriage relationship reflects our relationship with God … we must spend quality time together. Throughout His ministry, Jesus takes time to get away with God and spend time together. In the same way, we must make time to spend with our spouse to listen, share our hearts, and to encourage and support each other.
5 | Serve your spouse
Somehow we can easily forget to serve those who are closest to us. It is important that out of our love we humble ourselves and serve our spouse.
In Scripture, husbands are called to lay down their lives for their wives—just as Christ laid his life down for the church. And wives are called to submit to their husbands, just like the church submits to Jesus. Doing this cultivates love, trust, and faith that both our marriage and our relationship with God are built upon.
Ask for help!
There are so many things we can do to help our relationship with our spouse. God is with us always, to help us love and grow, to help us serve and listen even when it is difficult. However, He created us to live in community with each other as well.
Reach out to a friend, a church, or a counselor to help you figure out where to start. Another person can offer support, encouragement, and accountability that is needed. Asking for help is brave and humble and that is always a good place to start.
May you see God do incredible work in your life and marriage. May you be a light to the world bringing joy and hope. May you feel God’s peace and freedom as you follow Him. And may you dance and laugh along the way knowing that your God has already won the war.
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