A few years back, my wife and I met a young couple from our church who were soon to be married. In March of 2018, this husband and wife declared their commitment to God and to each other in front of family and friends here in Arkansas. But then, two years later, the high emotions and undying love they promised on their wedding day has somehow evaporated. One spouse shared that they didn't think their relationship was “fixable”.
This young couple is not alone. We are seeing more and more couples married three years or less in serious marital distress. Adjusting to married life is just plain hard! And this “not fixable” feeling is not limited to young marrieds. Lots of couples who have survived the first five years now find themselves at a point where they have lost hope that things can be different or in a place where one spouse wants out.
How can this happen? How does any couple, especially a committed Christian couple, get from saying “I Do” on the wedding day to “I'm Done” to a divorce lawyer? And, more importantly, when you find yourselves there as a couple, what do you do?
When a husband or wife has lost hope for their marriage, they need to do some real heart-searching in two areas. And both of these areas need to be honestly evaluated.
A CRITICAL DEFINITION
We hear this phrase all the time in counseling circles: “I love my spouse but I'm just not in love with them anymore.” Just like the young couple we spoke of earlier, they find themselves in a place where their lack of feelings for their spouse has led them to the conclusion that their marriage is dead. And while I understand the feeling, I counsel those couples to re-think what love really is.
The world has done a terrific job of defining love. The problem is that the world's definition is wrong. Here is what author and counselor Rob Green says about worldly love: “Three things characterize love from a worldly perspective: 1) love is a warm, fuzzy feeling, 2) love is about physical attraction, and 3) love is about having fun together. But if your definition of love is little more than warm fuzzies, physical attraction, and the ability to have fun together, your relationship may demonstrate not how much you love the other person, but how much you each love yourself! What you have found is a person who helps you love you better than anyone else has!” (1)
Ponder what Rob Green shared a second time. Coming to realize that you may have embraced the world's definition of love may be hard to admit, but it is the first step to moving from the selfish love that the world sells to a “more excellent way” of love. If that is where you honestly are, take a moment to confess that to the Lord in true humility. Repentance is always God's first step toward real change.
So what does God have to say about this thing called “love”? God has a lot to say about love in the Bible. You may be familiar with passages like 1 Corinthians 13 or even Ephesians 5. Those verses give us a view of biblical love, but check out this verse from 1 John 4:
This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:9-11
As you and I read those verses, we hear God showing us His view of biblical love. God's love is giving, other-centered, and self-sacrificing. Biblical love sees a need and gives, serves, and sacrifices to meet that need, with little or no thought of the personal cost involved.
Notice also that God's love is action-oriented. It does something! Biblical love moves beyond good intentions to action, even when it is hard. We must all remember that real, biblical love is not what I profess with my mouth – it is what I do in the small, seemingly insignificant moments of life. We all profess love for our spouse on Valentine's Day, but what about February 15th or March 15th? Did my actions on those two days back up my words from February 14th?
SEARCHING FOR HOPE
Understanding and embracing God's definition of love is vitally important. But beyond that, a second necessary step is honestly assessing where we are looking for our hope in this life and in your marriage. Here is what author and speaker, Paul David Tripp, has to say on this subject:
According to the Bible, there are ultimately only two places to look for hope. We can either search for hope horizontally in the situations, experiences, physical possessions, locations, and relationships of everyday life. Or we can search for hope vertically in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the promises and truths that He provides in His Word.
When we look for hope horizontally, we’re relying on items or people who suffer from the same degree of brokenness as we do. At best, they can provide fleeting pleasure, but they always result in disappointment, or at worst, addiction. On the contrary, vertical hope is summarized by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:5 – “hope in God will never put us to shame.” It will never embarrass us by failing to deliver!
You and I already know this, but it’s worth repeating every day: lasting, satisfying hope is only ever found vertically. Only in God is your hope sure and secure. Only He can provide you the life that your heart seeks. Only He can supply your soul with the rest that it needs. Only He can deliver the internal peace that is the hunger of every human being.
In his brief words, the Apostle Paul confronts us with this thought: if your hope disappoints you, it’s because the object of your hope is horizontal! (2)
So the question I am asking myself, and asking you to ponder as well, is this: Have I been looking for my hope in life and marriage in my spouse? If that is your honest answer, then thank the Lord for revealing that to you and ask Him to help you more and more consistently look to Him for that hope!
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Through looking honestly at how we define love AND evaluating where our hope rests, we uncover a vitally important truth: Marriage problems are always fixed vertically before they are ever fixed horizontally. We think that learning a new way to communicate with our spouse or learning how to “fight fair” as a couple will “fix” our marriage issues. We do need tools in marriage for working through conflict and communicating well.
But that is not our greatest need. My greatest need is, and will always be, my connection to God. Because it is from that connection that I can draw the wisdom, grace, and mercy I need, not only to survive in marriage, but to thrive in marriage.
Hans Molegraaf, co-founder of Marriage Revolution, shared some great counsel on this. Here is what he said: “You may think the first step to heal your marriage is a step toward your spouse. I want you to take steps toward your spouse in this process of restoring your marriage, but that is not your first step. Your first step to heal your marriage is a step toward God. Call out and cry out to Him as the only One who can truly bring both you and your spouse what you need.” (3)
Are you ready to take that step? If so, cry out to Him in your own words, or use the suggested prayer below. Don't delay. Take this step vertically. He is waiting to hear your desperate cry to Him!
SUGGESTED PRAYER: Lord, You know the hard place my spouse and I are in right now. But in the midst of that reality, I am thankful that You are the One who sovereignly brought my spouse and me together. Help me to find my hope in You and no other source. Remind me of Your great love for me demonstrated in sending Your Son to die in my place. Help me to have that same kind of giving, other-centered, self-sacrificing love for my spouse. I need You to work in me and my spouse. Thank You for answering my prayer. In the Name of Jesus!
Read and memorize 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Ask God to help you begin to show this 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love more and more consistently to your spouse.
Do a Bible search on the word “love” in both Old and New Testaments on a website like biblegateway.org. One by one, begin to look up every reference, asking God to show you more and more clearly His view of biblical love.
(1) Book, Tying the Knot by Rob Greene.
(2) Paul David Tripp: https://www.paultripp.com/wednesdays-word/posts/what-are-you-hoping-for
(3) Quote: Hans Molegraaf, Marriage Revolution.
Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash
Written by Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage, 2021. All Rights Reserved. Please send any questions or comments on this to us via email at info@AbidingMarriage.org