This may seem ironic or even hypocritical: I am a divorcing woman, giving advice on how to stay married. After many years of work, my marriage has come to an end. But let me point out two things. One, I stayed married for quite a long time, and two, I believe 100 percent in marriage. I am pro-marriage and always will be.
So here are some things you can do if you find yourself in a marriage that feels more difficult than the norm. These are the things I tried over the years to hold on as long as I did.
I'm writing this to the people I have met over the years who have told me that they are in a hard marriage and don't know if they can keep going one more day. And trust me, I have met way too many people in that situation who are followers of Jesus married to followers of Jesus. Being a Christian does not exempt you from marital problems; in fact, the downside is, we tend to keep it to ourselves and suffer in silence much longer than the rest of the world.
Prayer. I have counted on prayer to get me through. I have begged God to work in my life and marriage more than I've prayed for anything else. I have sobbed my way through prayers on my bathroom floor. To be honest, though, I have also prayed more than I'd like to admit that God would release me. I wanted out of my marriage for as long as I can remember, and I was honest with God about it. But I also prayed for my spouse … on my knees … begging God to heal. I stayed through a steady stream of conversations and pleas and whispers to God.
The Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit could have done the work in me that he's done so far. I have so, so far to go, but he burned raging out of me. I still yell sometimes, I'm sad to say. I still have anger issues. But the Holy Spirit worked in me to help me hold my tongue more than I have given myself credit for. I stayed through having the Spirit of God living in me keeping me there when I didn't want to be there.
Friends. My friendship circle has ebbed and flowed over the past 15 years, but one thing that every woman in my life who I trusted and confided in had in common was their fierce love for me and my family. I have never once had a friend tell me I should leave my husband. They have listened, they have prayed more than I'll ever know, they have supported, they have written notes, they have stood by me, they have pointed me back to Jesus, and they have kept me doing everything I could do to stay put. I stayed by having women around me who loved God and honored marriage helping me to stay.
Counseling. I am a fan of counseling. I must be to have tried nine of them. I love digging in and trying to figure out why I feel a certain way or why someone acts the way they do. Counseling has helped me both individually and helped our marriage in some seasons. There is something to be said about an objective third party looking at a situation and being able to tell both individuals what needs to be tweaked to move forward. I stayed by knowing when to get outside help and not letting my pride stop me from getting it.
Couples' groups. Getting plugged into small groups with other couples helped us over the years, though I must say, you only get out of it what you put in. We were in couples' groups where the other couples had no idea how bad things were between us, which at times made it all feel kind of pointless. But at least we showed up, and were hearing things that we could work on. I stayed by trying to get us involved in community.
Books. I'm a reader and I think it's safe to say that if a book has been written about marriage in the 15 years, I have not only read it, but taken notes on it. I once had a friend borrow a book, read it, and upon returning it say, "You are the only person I know who reads a book, highlights things, and then I can see you making the changes in your life that you read about." It's one thing to read a book. It's another thing to try to put what you're learning into practice. I stayed by reading as much as I could about Christian marriage and relationships, and then trying to do what I read. (Specific recommendations: Boundaries in Marriage, Foolproofing Your Life, The Love Dare, Sacred Marriage and The Power of a Praying Wife are just a few I love.)
Journaling. I've been keeping journals since high school. I have over 20 years of journals in my hope chest that chronicle the rise and fall of my marriage. Sometimes I journaled prayers, tracked what God was doing in my life. Sometimes I'd write out an argument with my husband to try to figure out what went wrong and what I could do to fix it. And sometimes all I wrote, over and over again, was, "Jesus, please help me … I can't do this anymore …" And he would. And I'd have the strength to make it through another day. I stayed by getting my feelings out in written form, which helped me stay sane through the years.
Twelve-Step recovery groups. About three years ago, I began attending a recovery group that changed my way of relating in deep and practical ways. I learned to "live and let live." I learned to get off my spouse's back. I learned to keep my mouth shut, at least more than I used to. I learned to focus on what I could change in my own life. I learned to detach and let natural consequences play out. I learned how to make amends. I learned that it was okay to admit that my life, or parts of it at least, were completely out of control and I needed help. I stayed because I learned how to live my life differently, which in turn helped me be married differently.
Just plain staying. I remember reading something Beth Moore wrote on her blog in honor of one of her wedding anniversaries. She made a list of reasons she and her husband had made it so long. One of the reasons that stood out to me was simply, "We kept going to bed and waking up and staying another day until we realized it had been however-many years …" I stayed by not leaving. I stayed by staying one more day and then realizing another year had gone by.
Reminding myself that marriage is not forever, just another 50 years, and I could do anything for 50 years. I told myself this all the time. I can do this for 50 more years. It's only 50 more years. That was my standard pep talk on really bad marriage days. I stayed by reminding myself that life is short compared to eternity. I stayed by reminding myself that the staying-married crown would be the most treasured crown I would have to lay at Christ's feet.
Mantras. After particularly painful arguments when hurtful things had been said, I would say to myself, over and over again, "You are precious and honored in his sight. Jesus loves you even though your husband doesn't." I spent a lot of time replacing lies with truth, most of which was straight out of Scripture. I stayed because I knew that I was loved even when I didn't feel loved.
It wasn't time for me to go. I could have left, really, at any point. There was no gun to my head. And though I practically felt that leaving was not an option, I am a human being with free will. I could have walked away. But I never felt that I should. I had not, in years past, felt I had exhausted every avenue of potential healing or change. I did not feel released. I stayed by believing I was supposed to continue staying.
Only God knows the rest. I stayed through means that I didn't have on my own. This has been the largest, longest, most difficult part of my life ever. It has broken me down, torn me to pieces, left me wishing for death to escape the perpetual pain. That I stayed married for all those years is a mystery to me, really. I know I just listed manifold reasons and ways but I stayed not out of my own strength, but out of God's.
Bottom-line, I stayed as long as I stayed because of God.
As I wrap up these thoughts, I cannot stress these things enough:
- I believe in God.
- I believe God created marriage as a covenant to last for the lifetime of the couple.
- I believe God created marriage as a breathtaking picture of how Christ loves his church.
- I believe God allows marriages to end when certain sins are committed.
- I believe the church is in place to protect and guide individuals and families in dark, confusing situations.
- I believe God would have wanted my marriage to be healthy and remain intact.
- I believe all marriages can be saved.
- I believe God gives us free will.
- I believe God is bringing about a different kind of miracle in my family—one of healing and resurrection and joy on the other side and reaching out to others with the comfort we have received.
- I believe no one should walk away from marriage without first getting as much help as they possibly can and trying their absolute hardest to keep it together.
- But I believe, when it all comes down, only you and God can know what you need to do.
May God bless you and keep you as you work out your relationships in his light and with his love.
Elisabeth Klein is mom to Sara and Jack. She is the author of several books, including At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday (Westbow). You can follow her on Twitter @ekcorcoran or friend her on Facebook.
This article is reprinted with permission, from an article that first appeared on Crosswalk.com.