April 28, 2017

Married for Adversity

Gary Thomas — 

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.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  (Prov. 17:17)

You’d be miserable indeed if you trained to become a fireman and resented it every time there was a fire. Not that you want there to be a fire, but putting out fires is what you’re trained to do. It’s what you signed up for. You don’t run from the fire—you move toward it.

In the same way, when we get married, we sign up to be there in times of adversity. If it is true that a brother is “born for adversity,” it is doubly true that a husband or wife is “married for adversity” for when I marry my wife, I become her closest friend in addition to being her brother in Christ. We’re thus signing up to be there during our spouses’ worst moments, most trying seasons, and even most irritating personal challenges.

What if we took Proverbs 17:17 seriously and thus considered ourselves “married for adversity?” Rather than resenting adversity, or feeling sorry for ourselves (instead of empathy for our spouse) that we have to deal with adversity, we would see adversity as a call to action, to closeness, to encouragement and support.

Imagine wives facing down social embarrassment with their husbands, but working with him instead of laughing at him: “This is one of the reasons I married him, to help him through this.” Imagine wives suffering a husband’s long bout of unemployment, thinking, “We got married so I could keep supplying the confidence and hope he needs.” Imagine the same attitude if he’s fighting an addiction, depression, or discouragement—a strong woman of faith realizing how dire things are but saying to herself, “I was born for this! I can love my man in the midst of this!”

Imagine husbands married to women who are gravely ill, doubling down on their affection and assurance: “I was born to help my wife get well (or even, sadly, to help her face her death).” What if a man discovers he married a sexually wounded wife who needs special care and understanding and he becomes more concerned about his wife’s healing and health than his own satisfaction? Imagine a husband who is married to a gifted woman who wants to start a business, but whose dad always told her she’d never amount to much. That husband provides the support, encouragement, and confidence she needs to become who God created her to be: “I was born to help my wife achieve her full glory!” Whatever the challenge, imagine Christian husbands taking up this biblical truth and instead of feeling sorry for themselves that they have to deal with adversity, loudly proclaim, “I can do this! With God’s empowering Spirit, I can love this woman! I was born to do this!”

Instead of seeing a weakness or limitation as a point of frustration, Proverbs 17:17 calls us to let adversity define our commitment, call out the best in us, and depend on God’s love working through us.

We live in a broken world where broken realities break our hearts. Knowing this to be so, God created marriage to confront this reality, not to be crushed by it. Marriage doesn’t remove us from the brokenness of the world but it does help us confront it together, and even to overcome it. Proverbs 17:17 is a rallying cry to let marriage be a castle against confusion. Rather than allow the brokenness of this world to cause us to question our marriage, Proverbs 17:17 says brokenness should remind us of why we got married.

The truth is, most of us marry for selfish reasons, but the Bible describes love as being showcased most clearly when we’re called to serve in the face of difficulty. A biblical friend doesn’t love only in wealth, health, social success, and sunny days. A biblical friend loves at all times. So, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves when our spouse hits a dry spell, or when he or she is going through a difficult time, let’s lace up our shoes a little tighter and remind ourselves, “I was born for this, to love my spouse at all times, especially in adversity.”

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24 responses to Married for Adversity

  1. Steven Christensen May 1, 2017 at 1:48 am

    Gary, I agree with your position in this post completely. Though I am not totally convinced of the applicability of some of the chosen supporting scripture it depicts an essential aspect of a biblical, Godly marriage beautifully.
    That being said, I found the post both thought provoking and threatening. It led me to doubt myself, to uncomfortably reflect on the limits of my own ability. Would I have the character to support my wife were the challenges we faced really extreme (such as those husbands we read about who lovingly cared for their spouses through decades of total dementia).
    I lack confidence in my strength.
    So it is really fortunate that, were our Lord to lead me through such challenges, it is not my own strength I would be forced to rely on… but His.

    • Thanks, Steven. You wisely point out that it’s never wise to put ourselves in the future without God’s grace. That grace and empowering strength make all the difference. Leaving either out would be like contemplating war without weapons and a general.

  2. Thank you for sharing the truth about sacrifice and helping us to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy marriage situations. I have a daughter currently going through a destructive marriage that has left me with questions and messages like this and answers to tough questions in the comments really do help bring clarity. Thank you so much!!

    • Patricia,

      I’ve said many times that spectacularly good advice for 90% of marriages can be spectacularly bad advice for the other 10%. Blogs are limited–they can inform the discussion but they can’t carry through on all the applications.

  3. Thank you for this, Gary. I find this comforting today as I struggle with being the “source” of the adversity as I am going through a very difficult pregnancy that often leaves me either bedridden or ill in the bathroom from late afternoon until the time I go to bed. I feel so much guilt over all of the ways I am “failing” as a wife and mother right now, to the point where I think I need to temporarily unsubscribe from many of the marriage blogs I follow because I cannot be or do the things those bloggers are prescribing right now and I am so frustrated. My husband is basically like a single dad to our three girls right now, or worse, because he has to care for me too.

    In a weird way, this post feels like permission for things to be hard right now. “In sickness and in health” is in our vows because it is a matter of WHEN, not if. This is what we signed up for, and it’s okay!

    • I’m SO glad you’re reading it that way, Kay. God wants to grow your husband and he can use your medical situation to do that.

      By the way, giving birth is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your husband so any guilt is completely misplaced. This is part of his role in welcoming the child into the world. He may be caring for you and the other kids, but you’re caring for a child within. I’m sure your husband would say the same thing.

      No guilt then–only praise that God is growing a new life, growing a more mature husband, giving increased wisdom to a wife, and adding to a family. You’re like the marathon runner and he’s like the people handing out the cups of water. He should admiring YOU!

  4. The post was a wonderful reminder to me on how to view my marriage. I am grateful to Him for you.

  5. Hi Gary,

    Thank you for your post. It opens the mind to deep reflections.
    Now, I have a personal question. To make it clear, I have to tell the brief story.
    Two days ago, being at the 34-th day of full fast, feeling extremely vulnerable
    morally and psychologically to unkind or harsh behavior, I asked my husband
    to take me with the car to a village at a distance less than 2 miles, because he
    was already intended to go there with the bike. We have a piece of land there
    where we plant some vegetables. I desperately needed some fresh air in the
    nature. But he immediately said, “No, I’m going to bike. I don’t want to use the
    car today.” I almost begged him, explaining how much I need air now, bit he had
    no compassion, no consideration. He knows that such attitude to me in this state
    can make me collapse and even worse, but he continued speaking harshly and
    with no care.
    In that moment I realized, how unbelievably selfish and unloving he is, and I
    felt so hurt, that almost vanishing I hurried in my room and started praying the
    Lord to give me peace and keep me from collapsing. I cried bitterly an hour
    and it brought me in an terrible state – I could hardly breathe.
    I continue my fast, I have four days more to accomplish 40 days, but after what
    happened I feel weaker and have no strength to read the Bible and pray as before.
    I had to isolate myself from my husband in order to be able to finish the fast. I
    know he regrets, but I don’t trust him any more.
    Now, my question is: Do you think that I can believe this man as a friend?
    Is there any possibility that some other reasons, beside lake of love, could provoke
    that rude demonstration of selfishness?
    I believe you are qualified and experienced to answer me.

    Best regards and God bless!

    • Charity,

      I admire your discipline regarding a 40 day fast. I can’t even imagine what that takes, to be honest. And, in general, I’d say during such a fast is not the time to evaluate your husband or your marriage. Our bodies are a part of us, and when we deprive them in this way, it affects our minds, our hearts, our perceptions.

      Leslie Vernick is doing a webinar next week on 5 Red Flags of a Destructive Marriage so her advice might help you better understand what’s going on. But, again, I don’t think an extreme fast is the time to work through these issues. First things first.

      • Thank you, Gary, for your kind words.
        Indeed, your advice is wise. It is possible that on certain acts and words now I put
        more importance than they actually deserve. Nevertheless, deep inside I know it is
        inhuman to hurt and doing so endangering somebody physically week, who needs
        help and loving support. Jesus said, “Be the servant!” and His recommendation is
        especially important in marriage.
        By the way, I would like to mark one thing about fasting.
        When you fast for more than a week, your body is afflicted and your emotionality
        dangerously vulnerable, but your spirit and mind, as the Holy Spirit works, become
        sharper and acuter. You see and understand things better than before, suspended
        in a state between the physical and the spiritual.
        Cheers!

        • Charity, your first life priority is to your husband. If fasting puts a wedge between him and you, then you need to confirm with him whether or not you may continue the fast. It seems as though, given the choice of continuing the fast or respecting your husband, you put the fast first and determined him to be the selfish one. This is not wise. A 40-day fast is not physically healthy, and it sounds like it is also unhealthy for your marriage.

          • Yes, Cheryl,
            you caught me where I am to be blamed.
            We often spoke, my husband and I, about a 40 days fast, and he supported my intention, in general, knowing that I have a lot of experience in 15 days full fasts. But one day, when we both fasted the weekend, I just surprised him, announcing that I continue fasting, until making 40 days. It was … very selfish from my part. I didn’t ask him does he agree for that special period or not. I acted as if I lived alone. He supported me, but it was very difficult for him also. About what you mention that such fast is not healthy, I would say it can be very dangerous if you don’t know how to do it – physically and spiritually. Spiritually only as the Holy Spirit helps you, you can endure the extreme difficulties which can occur. I agree it must not be tried lightly, but only if you have an absolute resolution and commitment to a spiritual goal. Thank you, Cheryl, for your rightful remark. I’m guilty and I ask God to forgive me.

    • My only thought is the lack consideraton people have in choosing a mate in the first place.You must marry a ” like minded person!”Discussing your foundational beliefs on many areas of life ” BEFORE marriage!”I find it interesting that so often we repeat the pattern of our upbringing. It’s familiar.I was recently in a psychiatric ward and hearing many woman speaking of their marriage issues I began to ask them what theie fathers were like.They married their fathers in so many ways.I see it in my own family. I think it is way to easy to get married, they should go to pre-marrige counsel BEFORE marriage and discuss issues because divorce is not easy!! Love and peace Allways.

  6. Wow!!! Paradigm shift!! Thank you!!!!

  7. Almost finished reading Cherish and this goes very well with building a great marriage even after 40 plus years!
    So helpful! Thank you for Not giving up on writing and blessing so many couples!
    In Christ,
    Joan Koers

  8. How do I continue to love a spouse where there is domestic violence and abuse? I know leaving and separating is necessary, but how do I continue to love him when he is still abusive even after I have left?

    At what point do we give up? I don’t mean giving up on loving them but giving up on there ever being a relationship with them

    • Hurting, this post isn’t for those who are in destructive or abusive marriages. Check out the button index on this blog for posts geared more for people in your situation. In one sense, leaving an abusive marriage IS an act of love; it’s being a true friend because if the only way to stop someone from abusing you is by leaving them, you’re doing them a favor by leaving. You’re limiting the scope of their sin, and that’s a loving act. As far as how this pertains to you in particular, I can’t of course answer that in a comment on a blog. That’s something that needs to be worked through with a counselor who has experience in this area and who can sit down with you.

    • Thank you for expressing your genuine honesty about your pain and suffering. I’m almost three years in with working with gifted professionals. Married for 13 years, currently separated for 7 months. I held the painful, destructive secret of emotional abuse for 12 years. No one knew the reality of my Christian home. I was paralyzed with fear and shame. Today, I am free! The healing process isn’t easy, but to live, to really live without shame and fear consistently haunting me brings me ultimate joy.

  9. I think this may be the best marriage post ever!

  10. Tamara Monoskie April 28, 2017 at 11:46 am

    I was born to be my husband’s helper in every way! I absolutely agree with that sentiment. But what about when he’s been lying about everything for our whole marriage and still is lying, even when I gently confronted him with the proof? Do I stay with a pathological liar and by my willingness to do anything for him, continue to aid and abet his narcissistic tendencies?

    • Tamara,

      There’s a difference between “enabling” and “loving.” “I was born for this” COULD mean that you stop covering up a spouse’s sin so that they finally have to deal with the consequences. That’s a loving thing to do in that you’re prayerfully seeking to encourage them to come out of a sinful habit. At times, love calls us to confrontation. It’s not a choice of being willing to do “anything” for him, but rather doing what is best for his soul. Love him in a way that pleases God even if your husband finds it displeasing.