Look for the Sin
After seeing my parents’ marriage fail, and then my first marriage fail, I just wasn’t a fan. But I gave it a second go anyway, only to prove to myself that I was right – marriage is not a good thing. At least for me. God changed my opinion, but it took a long minute.
Allow me, if you will, to share some of what God showed me that helped me see marriage with much kinder eyes.
A number of things happened as a result of that infamous bite of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Sin affected first, man’s relationship with God – “But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:9-10), and then, the marriage relationship – “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (vs 16). From there, the effect of sin in our relationships would spread to their children, as seen in Cain and Abel.
Sin will always affect the relationships of the one who entertains it. We never sin in isolation.
When I look into the scriptures, I come away with this conclusion –
Marriage is not the problem. Husbands are not the problem. Wives are not the problem.
Sin is the problem in our relationships. God made a good thing when He created husbands, wives, and marriage. We are the ones who make them hard and painful, and sin is what we use to do that.
Jesus has made restoration possible, between us and God, and between us and one another. But walking in healthy, thriving relationships, both divine and human, means that we become ruthless with our own sin. It means we become experts at repentence. Instead of focuing our attention on what our spouse is doing wrong, we’ve got to become really good at examining our own hearts, our own thoughts, and our own actions, in the light of scripture. Where is the sin in me?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the way everlasting.…” (Psalm 139:23-24)
That’s what it takes. A “search ME” way of living in relationship with others.
Marriage is good. Sin makes it hard. Be quick to look for it, quick to repent of it, and quick to forgive it in others. It will change the game, if you’re willing to do it.
The Motive of Prayer
I had been asking God for so many years to change my husband. Begging God, really. But I saw little to no movement over almost two decades. Makes a girl weary, you know? Finally, God made a change, and that change was in me.
During the very difficult beginning of our restoration season, God allowed me to see things through a very different lens. It was the lens of heaven, seeing my husband with eyes of love and compassion over his brokenness. Seeing him as God sees him…as a child of God, hurting, and in great need of the Father’s healing. For his sake, not mine. And that is where the change came. In the motive of my prayer.
I realized that all those years I wanted my husband to change so that my life would be easier, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with his anger, and his verbal abuse. I wanted him to change so that I could relax and maybe be happy for a change.
You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
This was the verse that God first used to address my prayer life, specifically my prayers for my husband. This is where I began to learn that motives matter to God, and my motive in prayer was me, more often than not.
As my view of my husband changed, so did my motives. As I saw what God saw, my heart broke for my husband more than it broke for me. And when I began to pray out of a genuine desire to see him free, to see him know the deep love of His Father, to know his worth – the changes I had prayed for began to happen. Little bits at a time for sure, but they were there.
Discovering that God is my source of happiness and peace, not my husband, was a shift I needed that enabled me to begin to pray with Godly motives rather than selfish ones.
If you are weary in prayer for your spouse, let God call out your motives. It will be hard, but so very worth it.
One of the most difficult things for me to do in my own marriage is to not try to change my husband. I used to fool myself into thinking I was pointing out flaws, or correcting him for his sake, but that just isn’t true. I’m doing it to make me more comfortable with who he is. The truth is, my correction (criticism) rarely has the desired outcome. It makes him defensive, not compliant, because he, just like me, is human and humans balk at being changed by someone through critical words.
Only God can truly change us, change our hearts so that our behavior and our thinking changes. I remember the day I learned this lesson (a lesson I am still struggling to learn well!). It was the day God spoke something to me that cleared up any misconception I had that I was doing something good by pointing out my husband’s flaws and mistakes.
“I have a Holy Spirit, and you are not Him.”
It is not easy to just let someone, especially someone we share life with, to just be who they are. But we must be honest enough with ourselves to realize that we need to change just as much as they do, and then we have to turn our attention back to God, the One who changes a person without criticism. I promise you, life with your spouse will get much easier, more peaceful, and more fun if you will stop trying to do what only God can do.
Choose Your Battles
Very few battles are worth fighting or even winning. Stop and think about the last real argument you had with your spouse. I mean the argument that caused one of you to get hurt or brought a cold silence that lasted for at least a day. Do you even remember what it was about? Was it worth it?
After 28 years, many of which were lived at war with my husband, I have learned a few hard lessons:
♥ Very few arguments are worth the price of peace that is paid to win them.
♥ Being right is a small consolation when it damages my friendship with my spouse.
♥ If I am going to stand my ground on an issue, I need to make sure it really matters. Will not standing my ground cause me to compromise my morals or my walk with Jesus? Will someone else be harmed if I don’t fight this particular battle?
♥ Winning an argument is a much smaller victory than the victory of giving up my need to win it.
♥ Not every battlefield needs to have my flag on it.
♥ It’s harder to stop a battle in motion than it is to walk away before it begins.
♥ Marriage battles are generally fought with words and our tongues are hard to control once they are loaded for battle. Our words used to win an argument often lead us to long-term regret and not much else.
Pride is the number one reason that battles are so often fought to the death within marriage. Peace has to start with someone, so why not let it start with you, today? Why you? Because you are here, reading this. Because waving a white flag is winning, not over your spouse, but over your true enemy. The one who is out to destroy your marriage.
Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who apologizes for the same thing umpteen times? (Umpteen is just shy of a gazillion, in case you were wondering.) After a while, their apology just doesn’t mean anything anymore.
I leave lights on. I enter a room, flip on the light, and for the life of me cannot remember to turn it off when I leave the room. So my husband, who pays the electric bill every month, is constantly asking me to turn off the light, which is my cue to say “Oh. Sorry.” and then go turn the light off. It may seem like the cute routine of an old married couple, but it occurred to me just recently (hours ago) how flippant my “Oh sorry” must seem to him. Like just the words I say on cue, but don’t really mean.
Because if I really was sorry, I’d start turning the lights off.
Lights are a small thing in light (no pun intended) of some of the issues that many couples deal with. Someone somewhere has apologized to their spouse one too many times for their infidelity. For their wild spending habits. For their inattention. For their hurtful words, bad temper, yelling, or too much drinking. For leaving the lights on again. But an apology that is given on cue, no matter what it’s for, still rings hollow after a while.
So, stop apologizing. Instead, do something about the behavior that you keep apologizing about. Make what is important to your spouse important enough to you to stop giving them hollow apologies.
Remember to turn off the lights, for crying out loud.
It’s so easy to forget. When the warm glow of “just married” turns into the “iron sharpens iron” of everyday life together, we forget two important truths about our spouse.
Weak. Broken. Flawed. Perhaps still carrying wounds from a less than ideal childhood. Prone to doing what they know better than to do. Sometimes (maybe more times than just sometimes) they are self-centered and self-serving. They walk in pride, or maybe it’s shame. They have bondages yet to be broken. They don’t always play nice with others.
Basically, they’re just like us, and God remembers that.
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14
Who they really are…
In the heat of a moment of stress and frustration, it’s easy to forget who we are really married to.
We forget they were created in the image of God and He loves them completely. If they are saved, then we are married to a new creation in Christ, still being sanctified. If not, then they are someone God desires to draw near, someone He wants.
To us, they may be the person who is making life difficult or at least driving us crazy with frustration.
But to God, they are the reason He gave His Son up to crucifixion.
Don’t forget to remember. Take a step back. Show mercy. It can make a difference.
What are you thinking?
A woman kissed her husband as he left for work, and then went about her day. As she did, her thoughts began to wander, and before she knew it she was thinking about something hurtful he had done last week. She replayed the incident in her mind throughout the day, and by the time her husband came home from work, her mood was very different than when he left that morning. She was irritable, and eventually, it turned to anger. And neither of them understood what had happened.
Sound familiar? It does to me. For years I allowed my thought life to run the show, and not only did it make me miserable, it brought misery to my marriage.
“You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind.” – Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind.
We cannot spend our day thinking negative thoughts about our spouse without it affecting how we treat them. Allowing our mind to dwell on all the reasons they are unlovable will not result in actions that display unconditional love.
Our thoughts can lead us to be for our spouse, or against them. Much is won or lost in the place of our thought life.
Part of my problem all those years was that I was often unaware of my own thought life, unaware really, that my thoughts mattered all that much. And like many people, I was ignorant of the fact that my thoughts were something I could actually have control over.
But our thoughts do matter, and we can control them.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,
and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2Corinthians 10:5
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
We have the ability to take control of our thoughts, or God would not have instructed us to do so. It takes awareness. It takes practice. It takes effort.
It takes making a choice. Today, choose to think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–whatever is excellent or praiseworthy about your spouse. Take every other thought captive.
Your thoughts matter. Think the ones worth thinking.
In the beginning, we do things simply because we know it will make our spouse happy. We want to please them, so we listened attentively to their stories and laughed at their jokes. We cooked their favorite meals, wore that shirt they liked, and put the toilet seat down. Because in the beginning, we did things with them in mind.
But life happens and if we aren’t watchful, we stop honoring our spouse. We start doing things with us in mind instead of them. The shift can be subtle, but it packs a punch.
Kids can create another shift, because kids are consuming. They can, if you let them, take over a marriage. Life will revolve around the children to such a degree that you are no longer husband and wife, you are only mom and dad. This isn’t good for your kids or your marriage.
Think of one thing you can do that will make your spouse happy. Clean the house before they get home. Watch the game on tv with them. Put the toilet seat down. Laugh at their joke, even if you’ve heard it a million times. Just do one thing, one thing that will honor them. One thing that will put them first. Tomorrow, rinse and repeat.
Remember the beginning. Remember the feelings you had for your spouse, and why you fell in love with them. Remembering is like blowing on an ember to bring it back to a flame. Get your spouse back on your mind.
Save some time and energy for your spouse. If your kids’ activities are consuming, then cut them back. Children need to see their parents spending time together, and having fun together, even if it means the kids don’t get to play every sport or go to every event. You are their example of marriage, so let them see that marriage is about loving your mate, putting them first, and doing things simply because it will make them happy. Let them see honor.
Repent. Go to your spouse, apologize for your part in what has happened, and commit yourself to them again. Yes, I know they’ve shifted too. I know they are just as self-consumed as you are. I know they don’t think about your happiness all that much either. But playing the ‘you-go-first’ game never ends well. Waiting for them to wake up and smell the coffee means nothing will ever change. You’re here. You’re reading this, so, tag, you’re it.
Perhaps the problems in your marriage are so overwhelming that you can’t see how any of this can help. Maybe it won’t fix everything. Maybe you’ll have to push past a lot of resentment in order to do any of it. So push. Take the small step. Because not doing it means nothing will change. In fact, not doing it means things will likely get a lot worse.
And doing it defeats what the enemy is trying to do to your marriage.
Learn how to fight, not with your spouse, but for your spouse and for your marriage.
Scripture is clear that our spouse is not our enemy.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
It is so important that we understand who is really coming against our marriage, and where our battles must be fought. We must learn to take our fight into the spiritual realm through prayer.
Your marriage is meant to glorify God, which makes it a continual target for destruction by the enemy. Therefore, covering your marriage in prayer is imperative. Praying every day for (not against) your spouse is a good place to start. The same things that come against you, are coming against them.
One of the most practical ways I pray for my spouse is by asking God for the fruit of the Spirit to grow in abundance in both myself and my spouse.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22
Fruit must be grown. It never just appears. Be faithful in prayer, because God is faithful to answer.
We will have arguments and disagreements with our spouse, but our real fighting, the place we exert the most combative energy, should be done through prayer. That’s how we actually win the fight.