By Britt Mooney, Crosswalk.com
After several miscommunications and misunderstandings, the man and woman take each other into their arms. The credits begin to roll. This is the end of most Romantic Comedies. Sometimes there will be a picture or shot of them getting married. The end of the story. Finding love and the wedding is not the end of the story, however. It’s only the beginning. As many will tell us, people who get married don’t always live “happily ever after.” There are crises to manage, much of which end in divorce and division of families. It is a good thing to find love, but adversity, defined as difficulties and misfortune keeps coming at us from within and without, no matter how much we love our spouse. Overcoming adversity in marriage is one of the most important life skill,s we can learn.
What Are the Challenges of Marriage?
I’m not here to discourage people from getting married, but marriage isn’t a continuous romantic comedy. Any couple with a long, healthy marriage will tell us how staying healthy in love is hard work.
If a healthy, long term marriage was easy, everyone would have one. Like anything in life worth having, success in marriage is hard work.
What are the challenges in marriage?
In general, men and women are different. Men find physical intimacy helps them get to the emotional. Women are the opposite. God puts us together and says, “Love one another.”
Beyond that, we have two different personalities and approaches to life. She’s more of a planner. I’m more spontaneous. Now we have to work together, the Bible says, “as one.”
Then we throw in two separate family cultures, including function and dysfunction, with learned behavior of how “we do things,” many of which don’t come up before we say, “I do.” Interracial and intercultural marriages have even more of a gap.
That’s not even getting to what’s happening outside of a direct relationship.
Our lives are constant adjustments to change and crises. Changes in jobs, careers. Death of a loved one. Accidents and sickness. Simply having kids. Every event requires an adjustment in our marriage.
Take having kids. It is a joyous time, but we can’t live as we did before. How will we find time together? How will we get on the same page on how to raise the kid? Oh, and then we have another kid and start all over.
Changes and crises have the potential for our fear and pride to spiral into increasingly more hurtful behaviors. The adversity seems insurmountable. All is lost. Right?
What Does the Bible Say about Overcoming Adversity in Marriage?
There is always hope in Christ.
One of the most common myths shared by pastors in the US is that the divorce rate is the same in and outside of the church. It isn’t true. On the contrary, among Christians who regularly attend church, the divorce rate is significantly lower.
Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that “In this life you will have trouble. But don’t be afraid. I’ve overcome the world.”
To begin with, God promises trouble. Trouble in our marriages isn’t a sign we have failed. It’s just life. Don’t be surprised.
Second, for those who are disciples of Christ, we have a promise that in those difficult times, we have God’s power to overcome.
The Bible is full of narratives where God’s power got people through impossibly difficult and hopeless situations. Nothing is hopeless with God.
What Are the Biggest Obstacles in the Way of Overcoming Adversity in Marriage?
Since marriage is initially spiritual, then the first obstacle to overcoming adversity in marriage is our spiritual enemy, the Devil, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy us in any way he can (John 10:10).
What God designed to be a blessing the Devil tries to make a curse. Satan takes our common adversity and ramps it up with his lies. He divides to conquer.
The second obstacle is our own fear and pride that keeps us from the blessing our marriage was meant to be. We are afraid of failure or abandonment, prideful that we can fix it on our own without humbly asking others and God for help.
The third obstacle many have is a lack of healthy role models. On the one hand, our culture says divorce is normal and healthy, even the separation and divorce of our own parents.
On the other hand, we don’t have mentors to show and tell us a better way and give us hope. We have to be intentional in relationship to have those mentors.
These three obstacles are a recipe for a failed marriage when dealing with discouragement and pain. We feel the adversity is insurmountable.
What are Ways to Overcome Adversity in Marriage when All Seems Lost?
As a pastor, I’ve sat down with spouses or couples when they say, “It’s irreconcilable. We’re getting a divorce.”
My approach is to first attempt to help save the marriage. It’s God’s desire for people to have an amazing marriage; it’s my goal, as well.
It takes both people’s commitment to move forward—not to stay in an unhealthy marriage but to have one of joy like God designed.
We can’t (and shouldn’t) force anyone to continue in a marriage without their consent, especially an abusive one. But it is possible to redeem a marriage where all seems lost.
I don’t want to dismiss how difficult this is. Often, incredibly hurtful things have been done or said. There’s seriously hard work ahead. Couples can believe it’s impossible. Without God, they’re probably right and leads to other conversations.
For disciples of Christ, however, the story is different. He specializes in doing the impossible (Matthew 19:26).
Here are five steps to overcoming adversity in marriage when all seems lost.
Believe that all is not lost
It isn’t hopeless.
God, who is all-powerful, desires for you to have a healthy marriage. He is for you, your spouse, and your marriage. He also wants to heal the wounds and fears that have crippled you so you can be whole and complete.
If God is for it, who can stop it (Romans 8:31)?
He can and will transform the marriage for our good and His glory. Both spouses must move forward with that hope.
Admit you need help
God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud (1 Peter 5:5-6). After committing to move forward together, you will not only need God’s grace and power but the help of others, specifically in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:15-26).
Couples get to the “all is lost” stage because they either deny there’s an issue or they thought they could handle it alone. That’s pride. And a lie. You can’t handle it alone. None of us can.
Repent by admitting that’s true. Call out to God and others you can trust. Have others pray with you.
Recognize the Devil is always trying to destroy you
It’s hard to believe in the midst of the arguing and chaos, but your battle isn’t with your spouse. They aren’t your enemy (Ephesians 6:12). You’ll never have a great marriage treating the person you love like an enemy.
The Devil is out to destroy your life and calling, and if marriage was meant to help you realize the calling, that’s the first place our spiritual enemy will attack. Don’t be ignorant of his strategy to divide and conquer.
It’s personal to God and the Devil. Will you take it personally?
Learn more about spiritual warfare together. Remember the promise (James 4:7). “Submit to God, resist the Devil, and he will run away.” Pray out loud and fight the Devil together.
Recognize your spouse is your partner against this attack
Not only is your partner not your enemy, but they are necessary to fight back against the Devil.
You won’t defeat Satan while at war with each other. You will win fighting united. One puts to flight 1,000, two 10,000 (Joshua 23:10). Unity is exponential in strength.
Both of you have been given gifts and insights specifically to encourage and empower the other (1 Corinthians 12:7). The enemy perverts that but now is the time to reclaim it.
Don’t misunderstand. This isn’t another opportunity to tell your spouse where they’ve failed. Quite the opposite.
Be intentional about speaking life over your spouse—God’s gifts and purposes within them (1 Peter 4:11). Tell them what they’re good at. Forgive each other. Give each other grace. Say these things out loud.
Pray over your wife or husband. Stand over your spouse, put your hand on them, and pray good things, blessings, over them. Affirm who they are in Christ.
Make radical, intentional, and consistent choices to work towards a healthy marriage
A marriage rarely gets to the “all is lost” stage with only one spouse being at fault.
Most of the time there was unhealthy behavior on both sides; no matter the exact mix of fault, this is the point to make radical and practical changes, no matter the cost.
As an aside, when we get to the “all is lost” stage, couples are ready to quit.
My counsel at this point is to tell couples that no matter what they might spend on counseling or intensive marriage weekend seminars, it’s cheaper than divorce in the long run, both financially and personally.
By the way, all those unhealthy habits you brought into the last marriage will still be there if you move on. You’ll have to work on them at some point to have a healthy relationship.
A marriage reconciled, content, and blessed after it seemed impossible? That is a treasure beyond imagining. The testimony of God doing the impossible in your marriage will be life-changing to you and countless others—especially if you have children.
This radical action is repentance. What are some practical examples?
Get professional Christian counseling. Go on an intensive marriage weekend (I recommend this one). Find an older couple with a healthy marriage and spend time with them regularly. Ask them questions and be vulnerable. Find people to watch your kids so you can have time.
Learn healthy ways to communicate and resolve conflict.
Cut out toxic relationships and addictions. Surround yourself with a community that points you to Christ.
It doesn’t matter what it costs. Pay it. It’s worth it.
Read that again.
You both have to set your mind on the reality that there is nothing more important than this—fulfilling your calling as individuals and a couple.
It’s been my experience that for the couples who begin this journey, it doesn’t take long to see encouraging signs. It absolutely takes time and consistent hard work, but with Christ, people grow and transform. The joy and intimacy on the other side are worth it.
There will still be problems and adversity. Remember, Jesus promised that. But for a couple grounded in Christ, empowered with His Spirit, and discipled in healthy relationship skills, our marriages become the refuge to help weather the storms of life instead of making the storms worse.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Britt Mooney (with his amazing wife, Becca) has lived as a missionary in Korea, traveled for missions to several countries, and now lives in Suwanee GA as a church planter that works bi-vocationally with Phoenix Roasters, a missional coffee company. He has a podcast about the Kingdom of God called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author with Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.