When you read this I hope I am on a boat for on a much-needed vacation. This has been a crazy season of pouring out and as Jesus did, I need to stop and get away to a quiet place. I don’t think I have ever felt more exhausted mentally, spiritually, and physically. Please pray that this time away will refresh me in every way.
Today’s Question: I'm not sure how to pose this as a question, exactly. I've come to the realization that I've bought an awful lot of relationship books – even Christian relationship books – that are basically about how to do what you need to do to make your relationship look like you want it to look.
And I've realized that ultimately, the focus is always about establishing my kingdom and not God's. Many of the things I want are good things and things the Bible says should be a part of marriage. But what if my spouse, for reasons I may never know or he may never overcome, is just broken in ways that most hit me at my own brokenness? How do I know when to grieve and accept that part of suffering in marriage may be God's will for me and when I'm asking too much or too little of my husband?
What does it mean, in a practical sense, to be comforted by God? How do I become satisfied in Him so that I can be more gracious (even, or especially, when I need to set a boundary) toward my husband?
Answer: Your question is one every married person needs to ask themselves because in every marriage, there are seasons of dryness, unhappiness, and discontent. It might be that our spouse isn’t hearing us well, doesn’t meet our needs in the way we’d like him/her to, or is destructive, being deceitful, abusive, controlling, or unfaithful.
The hurt, disappointment, and anger we feel can either motivate us to try harder to get what we want from our marriage, turn to another human being to satisfy us, become despairing and depressed, or that pain can turn us toward God to cling to him in a deeper way.
Interestingly, studies at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) indicate that the highest rates for depression for both men and women are among those who are separated and divorced as well as those with high conflict marriages.
So what is the answer?
The Bible clearly affirms the importance of fellowship and relationship (Romans 12:10). The two greatest commandments God gives us have to do with loving connection (Mark 12:29-31). We are to love him first and to love others deeply from the heart (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10; 1 Peter 1:22).
Wanting good relationships and a loving marriage are godly desires. The challenge begins when we try to do that but we don’t get the results we hoped for. How do we respond when we don’t get what we want?
Depression, anger, and anxiety result not only from relational distress (as the research has shown) but also from trying to make our human relationships give us something only God gives us. Having a good marriage can become an idolatrous desire when it becomes the centering desire of our hearts and rules our life, not to mention our emotions.
The Bible tells us that it’s not only what we think that’s important, but what we love and what we love the most. The Scriptures often refer to these things as the desires of our hearts. When these other desires rule us, then even good and godly desires like a great marriage become our functional gods or our idols.
Many people say they love God the most, yet evidence shows lesser loves rule our life (2 Kings 17:40-41). We say God is enough but feel we need God plus more.
So, with that backdrop, let me answer your first question. How do I know when to grieve and accept that part of suffering in marriage may be God's will for me and when I'm asking too much or too little of my husband?
We will always grieve some things we don’t get in our marriage. No husband (or wife) has all 52 cards in a deck as I often tell my clients.
If you want to succeed in marriage, you will need to learn to live with and love a real person, not your idealized version of him/her. Click To Tweet
But the question becomes what is asking too much of a spouse? Is it asking too much of your husband to love you as you’d like? To be honest with you? To never watch pornography? To support you in the manner you’d like to live? To treat you with kindness and respect? To clean up after himself? To be able to fix the toilet and the sink when they have a leak?
Is it too much for a husband to ask his wife never to nag or criticize him? To keep her weight close to what she weighed on her wedding day? To want to have sex every time he desires? To make dinner regularly? To work outside the home to help with finances? To put him first before the children? To respect him, especially in front of others? To not read steamy romance novels or visit internet chat rooms?
One can desire any and all of these things in marriage. The testing begins when you don’t get everything you want. What happens in you and to you? Do you demand what you want more forcefully? Try harder to get what you want? Become depressed? Have an affair? Watch pornography? Eat too much? Drink too much? Bully using the Scripture to get what you want? File for divorce?
Or, do you run to God for wisdom, comfort, and practical help in how to handle these very real hurts and disappointments and direction on what to do about your marriage?
You asked in your question, “What does it mean, in a practical sense, to be comforted by God? How do I become satisfied in Him so that I can be more gracious (even, or especially, when I need to set a boundary) with my husband?”
This is an excellent question, way too broad to adequately cover in this short blog. I talk about it in my book, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, but let me close with just a few thoughts.
The comfort of God comes when we believe what he tells us. He told the Israelites that the reason they failed to enter his Sabbath rest was due to unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19, 4:1)
Jesus reminds us that the hard work of faith is believing (John 6:28,29). Clinging to God in faith, trusting in his promises, his provisions, his presence, his protection, and his purposes gives us his peace. When we go our own way we forfeit that peace.
As we center ourselves in the love of God, we are no longer tossed about when our spouse fails us or disappoints us. Yes, we hurt, but we have received from God the strength and courage to both forgive our spouse for his/her failings as well as set appropriate boundaries and consequences when he or she continues to be unrepentant and destructive to the marriage and to us.
With God as our center, we are equipped to love and be compassionate without being foolish and enabling because God shows us how to love in a way that is in the best interests of the other.
If you’re in that kind of situation right now ask God, “what is in the best interests of my spouse”? Is it to keep quiet, pretend, and allow sin to continue? Or, Is it best to give the gift of consequences so that by experiencing the pain of one’s own sinful choices, one is more likely to wake up to the destructiveness of his or her own sin?
Friends, how have you found comfort in God when your disappointment, anger, and hurt loom large in your marriage?
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Praying for a thoroughly refreshing time away for you, Leslie🙏🏻❤️Many thanks for all you do for us.
The greatest comfort comes when I listen. Listen, and believe. I need to constantly immerse myself in His word so it is hidden in my heart. Then it can come quickly to my mind in the moment of need. When His word comes to me that way, I can believe it by acting like it’s true even if it doesn’t feel true. The comfort of His presence is overwhelmingly real during those times!
“My sheep hear my voice.” The biggest change in my life came when I realized that He speaks to me and I started to ask Him questions and expect an answer. It doesn’t always come right away or in the same way. Sometimes I hear a still small voice, sometimes a song, or a dream, or a scripture or a story.
I like to pray the psalms. Pray in pictures if I can’t find the words, picturing the answer to my prayer or just myself or another person in His arms or Jesus by their bed, etc. Tell Him everything, rant if I feel that way, etc. Or just listen.
Praise and giving thanks, for what is and for His future answered prayers, for knowing somehow, some way, He will make good out of it all. Sometimes I have to drag my mind back to praise every few seconds because it wants to roll and roll in the pain, trying to make sense of it, but I want my mind renewed instead.
In the middle of a crisis, I have cried out to Him and sensed Him picking me up and taking me to a safe place, even though I was still in the same place. That is comfort.
Just some thoughts.
Barbara B and Connie, what you are describing is a normal, intimate relationship with our Lord. It’s what He desires and is calling us to. There have been times for me like what you are describing when I have poured out my pain and sorrow before the Lord, and then comes that still, small voice: “I am here, trust Me.” The key is, I believe, GO TO HIM. Pour out your heart to Him, and when you are finally empty, listen. He will be there.
Leslie, I’m so glad you are getting some rest. Please put some boundaries around your own time and energy. We don’t want to see you wear yourself out. May the Lord grant you a rich supply of His all-sufficient grace.
In the midst of chaos, I have turned to God and given it all to Him, and received such an inner peace. And then there are some times, I pray and pray….and nothing. But I always think back to how I have seen His works, and seen Him provide, and I keep faith that He is behind the scenes working.
This speaks to me so beautifully!! Thank you for sharing it!
God is always there for me. I see how He has been leading me out of the lies and confusion of an emotionally destructive marriage and into truth and wisdom and a healthier response. He has led me to see that I have choices. I am not stuck. He is providing a way of escape and helping me every step of the way. He is helping me to guard my heart so that He is the One who has it. He’s teaching me that it is loving to give consequences for wrong behavior without a spirit of retaliation. He’s also helping me to understand (and not take it personally) when others don’t understand what I’m going through and mislabel or misdiagnose the problem and give bad advice (just love him more—ie., enable him and relinquish accountability). I’ve tested it and seen that it doesn’t work in my situation. It only serves as a cloak for more darkness. No conversion ever resulted from that! God has helped me, also, to understand, rather than judge, those who have had to make hard decisions (ie., divorce) for the sake of their own safety and sanity. You don’t understand a person’s situation, until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I thank God for the comfort of truth and the wisdom and freedom it brings!