Tough Love

5 keys to staying married (when you feel like calling it quits)

Though my husband, Steve, and I recently celebrated our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary, our marriage hasn't been filled with the wedded bliss you might expect from such a committed couple. Through the years, our relationship has weathered the storms of Steve's struggle with pornography and a volatile temper, my severe PMS and incessant need for control, and our unforgiving spirits.

I've battled I-can't-live-another-day-with-this-man feelings. And Steve has said that on the days I "acted crazy" (during my PMS), he's thought, I can't live like this the rest of my life. Since we've never allowed divorce to be an option, on my most desperate days, I've cried out to God, "I can't go on!"

But thanks to God's faithfulness and resurrection power, we have gone on. While we've both relied on our deep faith in God, we've also hung in there partly because I have a stubborn streak that God's transformed into tenacity. And Steve's stint as a Marine instilled him with an I-will-not-give-up-on-this-mission mindset—in this case, his mission being staying married to me for a lifetime.

As I hear others make excuses for withdrawing love from their spouse, I think of the motto Steve learned in the Marines: "No excuses—just results."

Even though we continue to struggle at times, Steve and I still love each other very much. Here are some of the lessons I've learned about loving my spouse even in the tough times.

1. Adopt God's perspective on sin.

One problem in our marriage was my mixed-up view of sin. My sins—being critical or judgmental, for example—seemed small and harmless to me compared to Steve's swearing, temper, or spending all his time in front of the television rather than with the kids and me. However, God showed me the error of this thinking when I read Jesus' words in Matthew 7:5: "First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye." Begrudgingly, I noticed it didn't say, "First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the log in your friend's eye."

When I let God expose my motives and attitudes in the light of his Word, my sins always appear like planks, while Steve's sins grow smaller in comparison. God wants me to deal with my sins, not Steve's.

While Steve was in the Marines, he perfected the bad habit of swearing. He still occasionally lets loose a string of profanities. I worried about its negative influence on our children, particularly when they would utter a curse word. I remember one day praying haughtily, "Lord, deliver him from this evil habit." But then the Holy Spirit spoke to me, What about your sins of the mouth? Suddenly they came to mind—criticizing, complaining, gossiping. I cringed when I realized our children had picked up these sinful habits too. The truth hit me: my use of words was no better than Steve's.

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