Good News for an unhappy marriage
By Pastor Tom Anderson
Somewhere on I-96 just east of Lansing, I saw a billboard advertising “Painless Dentistry”. If ever there was an oxymoron, this would be it! Any sentient human being knows that this never happens--unless you are a cadaver. Likewise, there never was a painless marriage. Let’s think for a moment about being in an unhappy marriage. We are not speaking of an abusive relationship–that is a separate topic–but a lack of happiness between spouses.
Every human relationship of any worth has periods of disappointment and discontent. Marriage–even Christian marriage--is no different. Couples should not judge their relationship to be a failure on the basis of a season of unhappiness. You would not judge the climate on the basis of only a week’s worth of weather, would you?
Having perspective is key to sustaining loving relationships over time. Winter weather can be brutal at times but still the season has its beauty–and don’t forget there’s no mosquitoes! Even couples with high levels of marital satisfaction reveal they go through periods of less-than-satisfaction. This is normal.
Changing your view of suffering
The world has a very simplistic lesson on suffering: Avoid it. Escape it. Medicate it. Many spouses follow this teaching to bail out on marriage when it’s not satisfying, or they go through some unhappiness. I spoke with a husband once who experienced some debilitating health problems. His wife felt burdened by his health needs and left him, her last words to him were, “I have a right to my own happiness.” This would indicate a worldly view of suffering.
But in the scriptures, suffering is a part of love. If you love someone, you will suffer. You’ll suffer with them. You’ll suffer for them and yes, you’ll suffer because of them. No one knew this better than Jesus Christ. He demonstrated that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) What if we stopped thinking about suffering as something to escape? What if we saw suffering as the opportunity to show true love? Any idiot can love someone in exchange for emotional benefit. But marriage isn’t for idiots–it’s for people who want to love like Jesus.
The real source of happiness
Your spouse will never make you happy. It’s impossible for any human being to satisfy your soul. Only God can satisfy the human soul. To expect your spouse or your children to make you happy is a false hope and false expectation. It will never happen. Bring your soul to Jesus who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
A good portion of unhappiness in marriage is because of our false and impossible expectations we place on our spouse. When we let Jesus satisfy our souls, we can see our spouse in a new way. They become God’s gift to us. They become our companions in our spiritual journey through life. They are no longer false gods/goddesses but helpmates, partners, lovers and friends.
I remember a painful night of prayer as a young husband during an unhappy season in our home. After pouring out my complaints before God and feeling sorry for myself, God spoke to me in a scripture, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.” It was exactly what I needed to hear. I put aside my crocodile tears and resolved to do the work of genuine love. Marriage isn’t primarily about my happiness. It’s about doing the work of love.