March 23, 2018

Taking Action

Gary Thomas — 

When Your Marriage is Going in the Wrong Direction, Doing Nothing is Usually Your Worst Choice

[Note: this week’s blog post is an adaptation from my newly released book Loving Him Well: Practical Advice for Influencing Your Husband, which is a rewritten version of Sacred Influence. For this reason, it primarily addresses women and wives, but men and husbands should feel free to change the genders and apply it accordingly. Nothing stated here isn’t also true for men. In fact, I’d love to hear in the comments how men reacted to this.]

When a marriage is going “south,” one of the worst things you can do is…nothing. People in panic often fear making the wrong move but sometimes “no move” is the worst move. Not doing anything will get you just what you’ve got.

The first thing so many women (and men, for that matter) in the Bible had to be told was to stop being afraid and become bold. When Hagar was abandoned by her husband and exiled to what looked like her and her son’s slow starvation and death, God’s angel encouraged her: “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 21:17). When the women who had been faithful to Jesus were beside themselves with grief, wondering what had happened to the body of their precious Jesus, an angel admonished them, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5).

Because of God’s Spirit within us, we are sometimes called to bold action. The “safe” path is sometimes a slow drift toward destruction. One of my favorite Christian philosophers, Elton Trueblood, put it so well:

“The person who never goes out on a limb will never, it is true, have the limb cut off while he is on it, but neither will he reach the best fruit. The best fruit which human life offers seems to come only within the reach of those who face life boldly . . . with no excessive concern over possible failure and personal danger. The good life is always the gambler’s choice, and comes to those who take sides. Neutrality is seldom a virtue.”

Fear gives birth to paralysis—and sometimes inaction is our greatest enemy. Marriages can slowly die from years of apathy. I’ve seen many relationships wilt from unhealthy patterns that one or both partners refused to address until they became “calcified” and thus were ten times more difficult to break. This is true of addictions, unhealthy communication, and disrespect. The longer a bad situation goes on, the more ingrained it becomes and the more difficult it is to fix.

If you always play it safe in your marriage, you’re going to end up in some ruts. What I believe will give you the most boldness and courage to address issues that need to change is understanding who you already are in Christ.

The Spiritual Platform to Influence Your Spouse

Let’s apply some simple theology here. Who does the Bible say is your refuge — God or your husband? Deuteronomy 33:27 provides the answer: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

In whom does your hope lie? Your husband’s continuing affection? First Peter 1:21 says, “Your faith and hope are in God.”

Where will you find your security? You and your husband’s ability to earn a living and your husband’s commitment to stay married to you? Philippians 4:19 answers, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Where will you find supreme acceptance that will never fade or falter for all the days of your life? “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,” replies Isaiah 62:5, “so will your God rejoice over you.”

If you’re trying to find your primary refuge in your husband, if you’ve centered your hope on him, if your security depends on his approval, and if you will do almost anything to gain his acceptance, then you’ve just given to a man what rightfully belongs to God alone.

And that means you’ve turned marriage into idol worship.

When you do that, both you and your husband lose. How will you ever find the courage to confront someone whose acceptance so determines your sense of well-being that you believe you can’t exist without him? How will you ever take the risk to say what needs to be said if you think your future depends on your husband’s favor toward you?

Your future depends on God, not on a fallen man. Your security rests with your caring Creator’s providence, not with your husband’s paycheck. Your acceptance as a person became secure when God adopted you, not when your husband proposed to you. If you truly want to love, motivate, and influence your husband, your first step must be to stay connected with God. Find your refuge, security, comfort, strength, and hope in him.

Armed with this acceptance, security, and empowerment, you become a mighty force for good. You can then claim the power of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 31:8: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Fear and discouragement create stagnancy and persistent disappointment in marriage. If you’ve had your fill of those, why not try God’s path of faith and boldness? When you begin taking initiative instead of simply feeling sorry for yourself, you become an active woman, and active women mirror the active God who made them.

An Active God

The first thing God wants us to know in Genesis chapter 1 is that he is an extraordinarily active God. In Genesis chapter one, thirty-eight active verbs describe what God does: he creates, he speaks, he separates, he calls, he blesses, he gives, and much more—all in just one chapter. Then—and this is key—he tells the woman and the man to do the same: “God blessed them [male and female] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’ ” (Genesis 1:28).

God made you, as a woman, to rule in this world, to subdue it, to act according to his image. Sin often drags us back toward sluggishness, despair, and despondency—giving in to life as it is rather than remaking life as it could be with God’s redeeming power unleashed. People give up on their marriages, give up on prayer, give up on their churches, give up on their kids, and eventually even give up on themselves. They say, “It’s no use,” and start to sulk instead of painstakingly remaking their marriage—simply because their first (or even tenth) attempt failed.

Initial romantic intensity is unearned; it seems to fall on us out of nowhere. But a solid, lasting marriage has to be built (and sometimes rebuilt) stone by stone. You married a fallen man and that means the time will come when you need to become an active woman to confront the weaknesses you see in yourself and your husband.

As daunting as this might seem, here’s the hope behind it: the current challenges in your marriage may well be God’s vehicle for you to become the strong woman he created you to be. Maybe you grew up with an overly passive view of being a woman. Maybe you’ve always let people run over you and allowed things to happen rather than to rise up and unleash the power that is yours as a woman not only created in the image of God, but filled with His Holy Spirit.

This challenge, as scary and painful as it might be, could be the doorway to new growth, new maturity and a new woman who more closely resembles the character of Jesus Christ.

For more teaching on this topic, check out Loving Him Well: Practical Advice on Influencing Your Husband:

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8 responses to Taking Action

  1. “Maybe you grew up with an overly passive view of being a woman. Maybe you’ve always let people run over you and allowed things to happen rather than to rise up and unleash the power that is yours as a woman not only created in the image of God, but filled with His Holy Spirit.”

    Amen. In my younger years, I was in a culture where the idea of submission was often (but not always!) skewed to the point that women were not invited to boldly speak the truth into their husband’s lives. I’ve been blessed by the things I have learned as I’ve grown older about what it means to be a woman and what submission truly looks like. It can be more complicated at times to live as an active woman, embracing submission and respect for my husband, but also honesty and accountability. Being silent and passive is easier, frankly. But the dividends of TRYING, of investing blood and sweat and tears into a marriage is worthwhile. The “easy way” of passivity isn’t very easy on your heart at the end of the day.

  2. This is timely, Gary. Our marriage group that is going through your book, Cherish, just hit on some of these issues in our last meeting. It will be encouraging and challenging for the wives to read. I’m so grateful for your heart to keep listening to what God is saying to us in our marriages. It is having a profound effect producing lots of fruit at the end of those limbs.

  3. This post has some very good points. One of them being that marriage can bring apathy. I’ve been married 30+ years and can attest to the fact that apathy is exactly where I’m at. My marriage has not been the worst but is far from the happiest. My husband told me so many times that if he had it to do over he would not choose me. It was painful to hear and realize it was because we married too quickly but that is another story. Anyway over the years I have become apathetic towards my marriage and husband because I felt like no matter what I changed about myself he was always onto the next thing I needed to change. Well gee I’m never gonna show up perfect so I just gave up. Today he sees some of the things he did wrong but it is totally unmotivating to me. I have zero desire to change my marriage. Is that a wrong attitude, yes I know it is but yet I still am apathetic and without motivation to even try anymore.

  4. Norman Nielsen March 26, 2018 at 7:53 am

    Well done Gary
    At what point do we take action when its not our marriage, but a sibling or an in-law that is in a terrible marriage, not physically abusive perhaps, but certainly one spouse has broken the vows to love, honor, and cherish the other? Is it always til death do us part? Do we intervene ever?

  5. Great post Gary! The part that stood out to me is not marriage related, (the part about giving up on your children). At times, I get frustrated with my daughter because I feel she is not learning at the level she should be for her age (she is going to be 8yrs old in a few mths). I just recently told myself I give up….but i’ll continue to try with her, my husband is trying as well.

  6. Thanks wonderful encouragement. Been married 30 years had always only part time husband. You are giving me the path for my change. Only thing that would be big hurdle I have never worked and no college. Nothing much too leave with and nobody else too depend on. Will work on all you have shared . I guess Trust God. For whatever happens. Thanks again for your awesome books I hope I will be able too afford all of them. Again thank you for your awesome post!!!!!!!!

  7. I love this! I’ve purchased and began your newest book “Llving Him Well.” I’ve only completed chapter 1, but it was great to read that my identity is in Christ, not my marriage or my husband.

    I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about the “Proverbs 31” woman. A lot of women look at her as “unreachable” expectations. I look at her and admire the way she works, and takes care of her household. This is who God calls “the excellent woman.” Why would we look at her with anything but admiration?

    I had spent 3 weeks reading proverbs 31 each day and applying one thing to a practical use. I started making my bed everyday. Not because I like it made, I couldn’t care less. But because my husband likes the bed made each day. So, when he’s in the shower, I take a few minutes and make the bed. It brings him a bit of joy, and he always thanks me before he leaves for work.

    Thank you Mr. Thomas for these blogs. They serve as good reminders for me!

  8. Excellent!!! What I’m seeing is that hurting spouses want to get out of the marriage too quickly. It takes time to rebuild a broken marriage brick by brick and so many want the drive-thru version, quick and fast fixes. It’s understandable when there is a lot of pain, but covenant love requires more than the drive-thru mentality.

    You are so right that fixes start with understanding who we are in Christ and who Christ should be to us. My most favorite thought here is that your hurting marriage… “may well be God’s vehicle for you to become the strong woman he created you to be.” Yes! Boldness and bravery to confront with kindness is a gift of discernment.

    Thank you for this, Gary!