August 2, 2017

Hope in Disappointing Marriages

Gary Thomas — 

If marriage conferences make you ill because your spouse doesn’t change; if marriage books and blogs like mine frustrate you because while you want to improve your marriage your spouse doesn’t and won’t; if you feel disconnected from your spouse and you seem to be the only one who notices or cares, what then?

You have an opportunity for a difficult but rich spiritual journey. It’s not one anybody would likely choose on their own. At first it isn’t very sweet but in the end it can take you to a spiritually prosperous place.

Thomas a Kempis wrote that “You will quickly be disappointed if you seek comfort and gain from others. If, however, you seek Jesus in all things, you will surely find Him.”

As a pastor who works with real couples, I’ve become a realist. God can heal, but sometimes people resist healing. God will convict but sometimes a spouse will harden their heart. You can tell someone the truth but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop lying to themselves. I have great hope and optimism because of God. If a couple will cast themselves on Him He will do mighty, even amazing things. But sometimes one spouse will quench the work of the Spirit.

If there is no marital comfort to be found, find solace in spiritual comfort. Disappointment can actually lead to a good thing when it forces us to pursue more intimacy with God. When we look to people to notice us, affirm us and appreciate us we’ll have mixed success at best or perhaps even zero success. But when we seek God, we enter the realm of certainty. Jesus promises us, “Seek and you will find.” (Luke 11:9)

For whatever reason, when I was a young boy I felt insecure and alienated, like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I grew familiar with feeling ashamed, incompetent and bothersome. But that pushed me toward God so hard that there were some rich spiritual experiences even early on. I didn’t just want God, I needed God. Looking back, I wouldn’t change what pushed me into God’s arms because what I found there was far superior to youthful success, affirmation or even self-esteem.

I can’t tell you what your next step should be in regards to your disappointing marriage, but I can tell you what your first step should in regards to your life—chase after God until He rains down His affirmation, acceptance, mercy and love, until you realize that what is happening to you breaks His heart even more than it breaks yours. Sometimes, with some people, this can take a while; God may even seem resistant, but persevere. You have this promise from Luke 11:9-13:

“So I say to you, ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. 10 For everyone who asks receives and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (CSB)

Then, when God has enveloped you with Himself, you can act with renewed courage and discernment. I’m not telling you to give up on your marriage or to stop trying. I’m telling you to renew your love affair with God. Give yourself a break from your disappointments by leaving human expectations behind and waiting on some heavenly consolation.

If the car battery is dead, continuing to turn the key only drains it a little bit more. At some point, you have to seek a different source of power. If you have been continually and persistently disappointed looking left or right, start looking up for the new charge.

This is not to minimize the pain and hurt you feel over a broken or dying marriage. I’m not pretending that it will ever stop hurting or that this will “make everything better.” I’m just saying that in the midst of your hurt, this will help, at least a little.

Thomas a Kempis adds these words: “Life without Jesus is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you. He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world. The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace….Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love.”

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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40 responses to Hope in Disappointing Marriages

  1. Thank you for continuing to open this subject in cold marriage pairings! You have paved the way for me already, it is good to read these situations bubbleing up to the surface, and knowing the instruction is to commune with Jesus daily and closely! I can’t wait to see the posts of these same people after the repaired connection to Jesus! You all will have a sight and vision unlike anything you have ever known, you will see you partner as Jesus sees them, and only joy will be present in your marriage. It is truley a Transforming relationship. Thank you for giving voice to us.

  2. Is there a book that relates to this post? I would love to read something intended for the lonely, disconnected spouse.

    Thank you,

    • Debbie,

      I have a chapter on this in A Lifelong Love

    • Debbie,

      I have read Gary’s book,”Lifelong Love”, and is is wonderful! You will be lifted up and encouraged in reading the whole book! I just finished reading, John Guest’s book, “Knowing You are Loved: Conditioning the Habits of the Heart.” It like Gary’s book reinforces that Christ loves you so much, and keep leaning on Him, and going to Him, and asking for the Holy Spirit to work through you, individually and in your relationship with your spouse.

  3. God’s Daughter August 3, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Finding someone Christian and positive, who will hear my laments and not lay this burden back at the feet of my husband was key. That was only making him more defensive and dug into his position. Focusing on myself and how I can become more obedient to God, respectful to my husband, and emotionally supported by friends I can trust and lean on also were very helpful. Without taking the hurt back to hubby, and not trying to fix him, or berate, or shame him, I am faithful that God will do God’s job now that I am not trying so hard to “assist” – and let me have fun, be joyful, be of service, and be receptive to the love and support God is sending me through others. Thy Will Not Mine Be Done!

  4. Dear Gary,

    I truly hope that you will see this message and respond. I recently came across your website last week as I have been desperately trying to find answers and sanity in a very dark place. I was truly touched by the blog “Why men dont change”- when your husband isn’t moved by your pain (February 2016)- currently the situation that describes my marriage and it offered so much insight it was so eye opening and freeing. In the blog you mentioned that you would follow up in your next blog about what women can do in this situation and i have looked over all your blogs but i cannot find the one after that. Please tell me what the title was so i can read it.

    It is amazing how God speaks to us as this post has come at the right time. Just yesterday i surrendered my hurt and my pain to God. I am finally getting to the point of acceptance that i cannot change him and i cannot look to him for validation and affirmation but instead look to the one who created me to fill me, heal me, restore me and make me whole. And although i cannot even begin to see what the other side will look like, or even imagine a happy ending no matter the outcome, i expectant and hopeful that God WILL restore what has been lost. That even if i cant see, God has got my back and he will turn my ashes into beauty. Thank you so much for the work that you are doing, for your wisdom and insight. May God bless you richly.


  5. Broken, but stronger August 2, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    Thank you very much for these words. I am in a lonely marriage where I feel I have been chasing after my husband’s attention and affection for years, to no avail. Just recently, I have been praying that I will see myself the way God sees me, instead of how I feel my husband sees me, as I feel broken and unworthy of love from him. This is confirmation to me that I need to accept myself because my Creator loves me as I am, and His love and acceptance are the only love and acceptance that will never disappoint or fail me.

  6. This is probably what I need to hear. My wife no longer considers herself a Christian and instead says she is “spiritual.” We would have gone to a local church but my wife says the pastor’s wife is too competitive.

    Materially things are fine with us (and that is something to be grateful for). I haven’t been to church for quite a few years; I’ve had the chance but going to church alone when you have a family seems very lonely. I’ve actually lost interest in my marriage and need to keep reminding myself to cherish my wife, and I do. I had no idea things would ever turn out this way.

    Friends, you who are reading this, especially if you are single and happened on this site by accident, pray long and hard before taking the marriage step. I’m **so** embarrassed to say this but looking back, I can see that God was trying to tell me not to marry this person,

    Gosh, this sounds so “down,” but at least I have this forum where I can express my thoughts.

    Thanks, Gary, for being honest about real life. I had no idea that Christian marriages could be anything less than amazing. Married couples I knew when I was single never talked about stuff like this so I thought it would always be a breeze with just a few road bumps along the way.


  7. Gary, this was an amazing blog article – spot on – thank you so much! I had replied a few weeks ago to your article on contempt as “Frustrated” (bc my husband who is often hardhearted/ contemptuous sent me the article – your response to me was helpful and kind). This sounds exactly like my situation and the journey I’ve been on – sometimes it’s extremely hard (like the day I replied to your blog), but I truly know that my faith is much stronger and my walk with the Lord is much sweeter and closer bc of my destructive marriage. Also, in spite of the heartache and loss, I have met amazing women on similar journeys whom I would never have otherwise met.

  8. I am grateful you wrote this blogpost! After almost eleven years of marriage, I would say my husband and I have a relatively good marriage. Yet my husband has admitted that his priorities are off, and he acknowledges his business and volunteer opportunities crowd out God and his family. He is kind, loving, patient and…….BUSY. I sense God has a unique calling on his life that he is resisting, and I think he would agree with that statement. My formative years were very much like you described yours, Gary. I am a happy woman although I carry heavy grief for my husband and children. Christ is more to me than anything else and I applaud you for spreading this message. Sometimes marriage is just going to be sad, hard, and difficult. It might not turn out well. The beauty is that Jesus brings HOPE!! That is all we truly truly need. God bless you! Your writings have brought me much needed wisdom through the years!