And sometimes it's a lot disappointing, when you feel lonely and angry and just aren't sure if you can take one more day. When life decisions are made that you totally disagree with. When you feel more alone when you're with him than you do when you're alone. When you look at your spouse and say "this is not who I married, and this is not what I thought I was signing up for." When you feel utterly rejected by your spouse. When you think maybe life would be better apart than it is together.
Marriage is hard. Some marriages have hard seasons, and some are hard in every season. Some seem to take little work, while others are hard work every single day. Life wears on us and wears us out and it takes a toll on our most important relationships.
But I think marriage is worth fighting for. I think your marriage is worth fighting for. It is a covenant relationship designed to reflect God's relationship with the church, and as such should be preserved whenever possible, by whatever means necessary.
There are of course no easy answers for a person who is bitterly disappointed with their marriage, and each disappointment in marriage has its own needs and its own solutions. But I think there are some things we can do in disappointing days, weeks, years that will help.
- Get some perspective. At some point you chose this person. Maybe they've changed, maybe you've changed. But the fact remains that at some point in the past you loved them and wanted to spend your life with them. And somewhere deep in their soul this is the same person you chose. So find a way to get back to that moment. List the things you're thankful for about your spouse and tell them how much you appreciate those things. Look at pictures of your wedding and remind yourself what you loved--and then search for evidence that those things are still there. Brag to a close friend about the things your spouse does well (in a non-annoying way, of course).
- Pray for yourself. Take your hurt to the Lord, who bears every one of our burdens. Ask Him to make you a better spouse and to heal the hurt places in you so you can love others more fully. Give your bitterness and anger to Him, confessing your own sin and asking for help. Ask Him to help you love your spouse with His love when yours has run out. Pray that you will have a soft heart and soft words. Ask Him to deal with you first. Wonderful things happen in a marriage when someone prays from the heart for these things.
- Pray for them. You will never change your spouse, and the more you nag them the more they will dig in their heels and not do whatever it is you wish they would do. But if you take those things to the Lord, He will listen. Pray for spiritual fruit in your spouse, for patience and courage and freedom from fear. Pray that they would find their calling and be healed from whatever is holding them back. Pray that they would make decisions that are for the good of the family and children, even if those turn out to be something different from what you want. Pray with a genuine concern for their best interests, not for your agenda.
- Turn to your friends. I think one of the problems we face in marriage is that we expect our spouse to meet our needs. It's great when they do meet our needs, but I don't think it is their job to fulfill all our emotional needs, and it is unfair to expect that. If I am feeling insecure, it is not my husband's job to compliment me and make me feel better--it is instead my job to turn to the Lord and get my security from Him. And that's where friends come in. Your same-gender friends "get" you in a way your spouse never can, and they can often fill in the gaps in your emotional needs. When I go out with my girlfriends we compliment one another, we help each other talk through parenting issues, and we pray for each other. Those are the kind of friends who will help you through the rough patches in your marriage.
- Stay away from toxic situations. If you have friends who are really happy about their divorce, then perhaps you need to have a hard conversation with them in which you tell them that you are working on their marriage and really need them to refrain from telling you how happy they are about their divorce. If you find yourself confiding too much in a friend of the opposite sex, end that friendship before it becomes a temptation to infidelity. Read and watch things that build up marriage, not things that glorify adultery. Don't participate in husband-bashing gripe sessions (which are never okay, but especially when marriage is hard).
- Hope for better things. When marriages are really in dire straights, we need to cling to the hope that things will get better. God changes people and circumstances. God can change our spouse and draw them to Himself. God can change us to make us more content. I have seen marriages that seemed irreparably broken get healed, and it can happen to yours. I loved this testimonial about how God healed a hopeless marriage. Read those kinds of stories and dwell on them.
- Express love and kindness even when you don't feel like it. Most of the things on this list you can do without interacting with your spouse, and in that sense they seem doable even when things are really hard. But of course working on a marriage does take some interaction. C. S. Lewis famously said that we shouldn't waste time wondering if we love our neighbor, but instead should act as if we do and the feelings will follow. I have found that holds very true in marriage. So ask your spouse what you can do to make their life easier today. Compliment them. Hold their hand or give them a hug. Ask them on a date, and if you don't think you can go out to dinner without arguing then just go to a movie where you don't really have to talk. Let them overhear you telling the kids how great they are. Show them in tiny ways that you are still here, that you are trying to make things better. That you accept them as they are.