Can a difficult marriage change? The answer, I’m happy to report, is Yes. Here’s how my difficult marriage has changed for the better in the past 20 years.
Can a Difficult Marriage Change?
My husband and I have been married 20 years today. In the first two weeks of our marriage, I noticed problems developing. These problems, and many others, have plagued us year after year, all the way up until this summer.
But in this year, yes – 2020, I have finally seen the changes I’ve hoped and prayed over for years. Actually, changes I stopped hoping and praying for, but picked back up with God’s help.
If you’re in a difficult marriage, and I’m talking a marriage with problems that are greater than the norm, you may have stopped hoping too. That’s why I’m sharing my story today. I want to encourage you, just like others encouraged me, when I didn’t know if my difficult marriage could change.
20 Years of Difficult Marriage
This morning, I noticed no coincidence that the assigned reading in my One Year Bible was Ezekiel 37:1-14. It’s the testimony of the valley of dry bones, which God resurrected with his own breath. Like the breath he breathed into Adam at creation. New life into bones that were dry and dead.
Today, on our 20-year anniversary, I’m praising God for breathing new life into a marriage that was for all plans and purposes, dead. Dead when we separated in 2015. Dead with severe problems only one year ago, as well as it was dead in other past valleys.
Experiencing new life in this difficult year that has been so challenging for so many. Yet for my husband and I, 2020 is the year that miracles finally came true in our marriage. Change finally took root.
In our difficult marriage, I’ve endured problems linked to an unequally yoked relationship, extended family issues, workaholism, emotional abuse, addiction and other destructive behaviors. Abuse and addiction are marriage problems that require heavy-duty help, which we’ve employed.
If you have a truly difficult marriage like ours, you need outside help as well as supernatural help. I want to state that upfront so you know where I’m coming from. We wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t called on God and others for help.Can a difficult marriage change? The answer, I'm happy to report, is Yes. Here's how my difficult marriage has changed for the better in the past 20 years. #marriage #marriagehelp Click To Tweet
What Not to Do In Your Difficult Marriage
When I look back on the early years of our marriage, I see several things I did wrong. Here are my mistakes that you can avoid in your own difficult marriage.
Disconnect from God
I dealt with guilt heading into our marriage, and it caused a roadblock in my relationship with God. Though I attended church each week, I was not steeping myself in God’s Word or meeting him in prayer during those first few years. Once I started meeting with God in those ways, I gained peace and hope.
Rely Only On Your Spouse
The first mistake was to rely too heavily on my husband for all my needs, especially socially. I was in a very lonely season when we met, and I hadn’t kept up with social ties since high school. He was not designed to meet all my needs. When I joined a mom’s Bible study in 2004, I started to feel much better since I wasn’t relying on him for all my social needs.
As a 23-year-old bride, I didn’t fully understand this proverb:
A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day. Prov. 27:15 NLT
One request to my husband was reasonable. But my repeated requests fell on deaf ears. Until I developed healthy boundaries, my repeated requests were only seen as nagging.
In the early years, I complained about our problems to anyone who would listen. But people tired of this quickly. Though I was looking for affirmation and solutions, I was looking in the wrong places. And I was going about it in the wrong way with a whining tone. Once I learned to take my issues to people who could actually help me (pastors, counselors and other wives in difficult marriages), my tendency to whine stopped.
By withholding forgiveness, I began to develop a hard heart toward my husband. But I can look back and see a difference in the years I committed to forgiving him over and over, even for things that he didn’t seem sorry about. Forgiveness helped me release my hard feelings to God though the problems were continuing. It’s an essential ingredient for surviving and thriving in a difficult marriage.What Not to Do In Your Difficult Marriage - advice from 20 years of experience. #marriageadvice #marriagetips Click To Tweet
How to Change Your Difficult Marriage
I’m not trying to be melodramatic when I say I feel like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings books and movies today. He had a heavy assignment in an epic fight. He couldn’t do it alone. Yet he faced many trials and temptations on his long journey before he reached victory. And he had a huge battle inside himself to conquer, in addition to the outer battle he faced every day.
If you want to change your difficult marriage, you’ll have to do a LOT of internal work first, before you ever think of dealing with your spouse. This is what I had to do to affect change in my marriage, because the change started with me.
Get in the Word
In 2003 I began reading the One Year Bible. Nothing else changed our marriage more than me taking this step. Reading God’s Word every day transformed me. I learned how God saw me as his beloved child. This began the healing process for the childhood hurts I brought into our marriage. I also learned to discern the lies I was believing in my marriage compared to the truths in God’s Word. This daily reality check reprogrammed my thoughts and gave me peace. It also helped me develop a rock-solid relationship with God, which was crucial for me in the fight for my marriage.
In very few circumstances did I hold zero percent responsibility in our problems. I almost always had at least 10 percent, and that was primarily in my attitudes and responses. I had to take a hard look at how I was contributing to our problems and address my blind spots. Once I did this, I gained freedom because I had something to control and manage, even when things felt out of control in our marriage.
I can’t count how many books, broadcasts, sermons, blog posts, articles and podcasts I’ve sought out for marriage advice. This advice from a host of Christian counselors, authors and pastors made all the difference in my understanding of our problems and the solutions to take. I will prepare a list of recommended reads and link them back to this post later this week. In the meantime, look on the sidebar (or footer for phone users) for the Marriage tab, which will have tons of recommendations for you.
Leave and Cleave
In the beginning, I was too dependent on my extended family, and I overshared our problems with them. This only added fuel to the unhealthy fires in our marriage. The more we enacted healthy separation from our family members (some of them toxic), the healthier our marriage became.
Connect with Godly Friends
As I described above, everything changed for me when I connected with others and did not depend on my husband for all my social and emotional needs. I made a few blunders at first, connecting with women who were man-bashers or flirts. When I connected with godly friends who encouraged me, exhorted me and prayed faithfully for me, I felt supported. This support base was essential for me when the hardest storms hit our marriage, because I could go to those friends when I couldn’t rely on my husband.
From 2009 to 2013, I saw a counselor for an hour every two weeks. Counseling was a key component of healing in my life, and later, healing in our marriage. My counselor helped me see things from a perspective no one else could offer. He also offered us marriage counseling, and my husband had his own counselor too. I can honestly say that our marriage would not have survived without counseling. Both of us are children of divorce, and we brought so much junk into our marriage that only professionals could help us sort it out.
Around 2007, I read the book Boundaries for the first time, and it changed everything for me. I then built up a Cloud-Townsend mini-library, including Boundaries in Marriage. Learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries in our difficult marriage was another essential tool in the fight. If you haven’t yet read the Boundaries books, or gained help from a counselor in setting boundaries, this is a must-do in your marriage. You will also gain confrontation skills from these books, and learn how to speak the truth in love.
Around 2014 I gained knowledge about my husband’s childhood that I didn’t know before. I also started studying personality tests and learned our love languages. These pieces of the puzzle helped me understand him better. They also helped me show compassion toward him for his losses and hurts. Compassion is a key stance you must take in a difficult marriage, because it softens your heart toward your spouse.
As mentioned above, I prayed nearly every day for my husband for the past two years at the same time. Using a clock to remind you to pray is a great practice, especially if you connect it with your anniversary, his birthday, or another special day. Prayer changed my heart, focus, attitudes and hope. It was where I could always vent vertically in a safe way. Prayer reminded me that God is in charge and working behind the scenes. It also protected me in spiritual warfare (see next point).
I did not grow up knowing much about spiritual warfare. But I learned a lot about it in our difficult marriage. I began to recognize the spiritual strongholds that had existed through generational sins on both sides of our family. I also saw the chance to defeat the enemy’s purposes for us and be a catalyst for change in the generations to come. Every day, I had to put on the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6 to stand strong for my marriage. It’s good to remember we aren’t really fighting against our spouses, but against spiritual forces that want to defeat us (Eph. 6:12).
Detach with Love
My friend Karla has written an amazing book for wives in difficult marriages, which I highly recommend. The main takeway I got from that book was to detach with love. Loving detachment protected my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. It also created space for my husband to work on his issues without me trying to fix him. Detachment gets easier with practice, and Karla shows you exactly how to do it in a biblical way.
Don’t Give Up Hope
I remember exactly where I was when I heard a man call into Dr. Randy Carlson‘s live radio show one afternoon at least 10 years ago. As I looked into the slanting sunlight, I heard the man say, “My wife prayed for me for 30 years before I turned my life around. I’m calling for the wives out there, married to guys like I once was. Don’t stop praying for your husbands. There is hope, because God is at work even in ways you can’t see.” This man’s testimony is just one of the tools God used to inspire hope in me on this long, difficult journey. I had to choose a hopeful attitude even in the valley of the shadow of death in our marriage. Faith is the substance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV), and through these 20 years, my faith has soared to Mt. Olympus heights.
Believe in Marriage
In one of Gary Thomas’ great books on marriage, he states the importance of believing in marriage for marriage’s sake. That it is the most brilliant institution God created for the benefit of all people for all times. Whether my marriage succeeded or failed, I decided to believe in the sacredness of marriage. I had seen the brokenness of our parents’ failed marriages and the nuclear fallout that occurred for decades afterward. I was willing to move heaven and earth to prevent our children from experiencing the same heartache we had experienced as children of divorce. And yet, I knew that even if our marriage failed, I would still cast my vote for marriage any day of any week.
Marriage is still one of God’s best plans, so beautiful in the way it reflects the love, unity and communion of the Trinity. Tears are coming to my eyes now as I consider the wonderful grace God showed us in breathing new life into the valley of dry bones in our marriage. He can do this for you too!13 things you can do to effect change in your difficult marriage. #hope #spiritualgrowth #marriage Click To Tweet
Giving God All the Praise
Since the mid-1990s, I’ve had a perpetual calendar with the names of God on it for every day of the year. This year, I’ve displayed it so I can see the names for today’s date, as well as whatever name is on the page on the back. Today, the name for God is Shepherd, the one who walked beside me through all the valleys before, and protected me with his rod and staff (Psalm 23). And guess which day is on the backside? February 14, Valentine’s Day, and the name for God is Love.
I give all praise to the King of Kings, the God of Love, and my loving Shepherd today. He chose to redeem our story, and he very well may choose to redeem yours too. The hymn The King of Love My Shepherd Is has been on my lips and my heart today. It’s a fitting celebration song for our anniversary.
In the end, your decision about your marriage is between you and God, because not every marriage can be saved. Ours came within inches of falling off the cliff, so I will never judge you for your decision. I pray that this post gives you affirmation, direction and encouragement in your journey in a difficult marriage.
Praying for You
It would be my honor to pray for you if you send me a prayer request on my Contact page. Each week, I receive prayer requests from hurting wives (and a few husbands) who are hanging on by a thread. I’ve been there before, and it’s my joy to lift you up in prayer, friend.
I hope and pray that God will make a way for me to write a book about my experience someday. If you want to be the first to know when/if a publisher accepts my book proposal (which was submitted in October 2020), please sign up for my newsletter in the pink boxes below. You’ll also receive instant access to my library of printables, including ones that can strengthen your marriage. Thank you so much!Affirmation, direction and encouragement for your difficult marriage here. #encouragement #marriageadvice Click To Tweet
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