First we are dating, then engaged, and finally married. During this initial stage of marriage we are driven by our strong feelings for each other, “the tinglies” phase as Fr. Pat York would call it. In “the tinglies” phase we are caught up in a euphoria of feelings and emotions. Our thoughts, words and actions revolve around our spouse and the feelings of love we have for each other. Mostly “the tinglies” are effortless; everything comes so naturally, we are thinking of each other, doing for each other, etc. At some point “the tinglies” fade and over time we start to wonder why loving each other, or for some even liking each other, seems so hard. We seem to be more irritated by those habits we once thought were cute. At this point we become more critical and judgmental of each other, our spouse’s flaws seem to stand out like a monster wart on their forehead. It is difficult to”feel” love for someone when we are being critical or judgmental of them. As our irritation and judgment grow our feelings of love fade away.
It is at this point that we must “decide” to love instead of relying solely on our feelings. Unfortunately, long ago when someone we knew told us that “love is not a feeling, it is a decision” we dismissed their unwanted advice because “our love” was different, our love was epic! So as the feelings were fading for our spouse, our decision to love did not kick in because we never bought into the idea that true love would ever need a “decision”.
Now 2, 5, 10 years or possibly more have gone by and we can’t even remember the last time we felt love, believed in love, or believed in each other. Is the love gone forever, are we beyond repair?
I know how you feel, I can still remember how empty I felt when there was no longer any love between myself and my husband. The good news is that it is not too late to salvage your marriage and turn things around. The love that you once felt might be gone but there is a new, deeper love waiting to be found. And no, I am not suggesting that you turn in your current spouse for a new one, but I am suggesting that you trade in your tired and expired love for a renewed, more passionate love. The world would tell you that you can never get back a love that is lost or has faded away. You will hear things like “Things are too far gone, there is no way things will get better.” Or “It is not possible to make this marriage work.” Or “If you have to work at it, it is not really love.” Or “You deserve to find a spouse that is a better fit for you.” While our friends and family that give us this advice are well meaning, it is bad advice. These types of statements were a natural response to my pain. I heard all of these and more, not only in my head but also from well meaning friends and loved ones. They wanted to help eliminate my pain, as they could not stand to see me suffer.
Are you hearing some of the same statements? Or maybe you might be that well-meaning friend or loved one, with good intentions, proclaiming these same statements to help “save” someone you care about. Our friends and loved ones just want better for us, they want to protect us. Can we really blame them? They do not want to see us suffer!
In the sea of advice to abandon my marriage, there was one lone friend who said something different. She said, “I know you are hurting, but you know you cannot leave.” Her words, at the time, were sharp like a knife but there was something else about her words, they were also inspiring. Inspiring because they matched what I knew in my heart. My heart knew I should expect our love could rise from the ashes but my head agreed with the majority of my friends that I should just throw in the towel.
Because of that one friends statement “I know you are hurting, but you know you cannot leave” I tried to imagine what God might do with our marriage if I did choose to stay and fight for our marriage. I decided to ignore the opinions of the world, and I chose to listen to the wisdom of couples that had been married 50 years + and still looked forward to seeing each other everyday when they woke up. These couples would say things like “Marriage is difficult but well worth the struggles.” Or “We lost our love a few times and it wasn’t until we included God as part of our marriage that we found real love with each other.” Or “There were times I was really terrible to my spouse, I am so grateful that they stuck it out.” Or “Marriage takes a lot of sacrifice but I would not trade any of it for the world.”
So I decided to stick it out; I wanted the love that could last even though there was ZERO evidence that our marriage could be salvaged. I chose to believe that God could save our marriage and that God wanted to save our marriage. This was not the easy decision, matter of fact it was the exact opposite of easy. But I also remembered that most things worth doing do not come easy, they come with hard work and struggle. I realized that if there were 3 people (husband, wife, and God) on the alter on the day of our marriage; there were still 3 people in our marriage. So I started to wonder, “if God had a say, if God had a vote, would he bet on his ability to save our marriage or would he also throw in the towel?” As much as I wanted to believe that “God had different plans for me” or that “God did not want to see me suffer”, I realized that God would want this marriage to succeed even more than I did and God would not have any doubt that He could save our marriage. The only doubt that God might have is whether or not I trusted him to keep his promises.
So I decided to trust the promise made by 3 on our wedding day instead of listen to the influences of the world. I had to “decide” to love my husband and filter the advice I wanted to enter my ears. I wanted to focus on advice and council that believed my marriage had a chance. I will tell you it was a very small group. I knew I could not confide in my parents or siblings about what was going on because I knew they would want to “save” me. I also knew that several of my friends would lovingly and with good intention want to give me the “out” my head was desperately looking for. So there were not many that knew of the daily struggle I had chose to undertake.
Like the illustration above I recognized that there were only 2 relationships (in red) I could directly effect and they were 1) my relationship with God and 2) my relationship with my husband. The relationship with my husband was for all practical purposes broken, I could not rely on him to help save our marriage, but I could rely on God. So I poured all of my energy into loving and knowing God and his promise to save our marriage. I chose not only to “decide” to love my husband in the absence of feelings but also to fight for our marriage in prayer. I decided to treat my husband better and focus on my relationship with God and trust God to take care of all else that was needed to save our marriage. In prayer I learned that no matter how many fingers I wanted to point at my husband (and there were a lot of fingers to be pointed at him) that there were at least 2 fingers pointed at me: 1) how I treated my husband and 2) how I prayed for my husband! It was not my job to “change” my husband, and that was very hard for me to accept. I could not make my husband be anything different, but I could strengthen my relationship with God, I could be obedient to God and pray for my husband and my marriage.
My husband was terrible to me; the emotional and verbal abuse was unimaginable. No matter what I did or how I did it, he was always so angry with me. In response to his anger, I grew despondent, frustrated, critical, and judgmental. On my better days, I found a small piece of my heart that wanted to pray for him and all I could pray for was for him to change. I desperately wanted him to be different, act different, etc. This is where the opinions of the world would say I would be justified in throwing in the towel or at least justified in only treating my husband as good as he was treating me, which wasn’t very good at all. It took a lot of prayer and a significant dose of humility to realize that my job was to love my husband unconditionally and pray to love him and see him as the child of God that he was, no matter how terrible he was being to me. It wasn’t my job to be critical of him or to judge him; it was my job to be compassionate and loving to him. It did not mean that I should tolerate his bad behavior or let him walk all over me. I had to learn to set boundaries, lovingly. For example I used to say, “You have no right to treat me this way, I do not deserve this. You are constantly mistreating me and I cannot love you like this. You need to change or else.” And when he failed at anything I was the first to jump down his throat and point out all the reasons he failed and say “I told you so.” In the eyes of the world I would have been justified, I would have been right in my behavior because of how he was mistreating me. But in the eyes of God my behavior was disrespectful and unloving. So I learned to say, “Honey, I love you, even when you are difficult to love and it is not ok that you mistreat me this way. I am going to move into the spare bedroom, not because I do not love you, but because I do love you and I desperately want to save our marriage. I know you are hurting terribly right now and I am sorry for any part I have played in that. When you are ready to help me save our marriage, I will be right upstairs.” And when he failed, I learned to bite my tongue and say nothing or say, “I am sorry this has happened. How can I help?” Changing how I treated my husband was not easy. Sure, I can write about it now, but back then it was terrifying. The way I was being mistreated by my husband on a daily basis was a mountain compared to the small hill of frustration I might have communicated to my husband. But one day while I was praying I realized that it was God I was accountable to. When my life was over and I hopefully would meet God in heaven, it was God who I wanted to be able to look in the eye and say, “God I did everything I could to save my marriage and to honor the promise I made”. So, it was my desire to please God that helped me to daily pick up my cross and fight for my marriage. It had been years of horror and mistreatment at this point, and it would be several more years before we were finally delivered from those ashes.
Today I am in the place where I can truly say my husband and I are both different people. My husband is now a wonderful, trustworthy, passionate, Godly man that I am proud to lay beside every night and stand beside everyday. I am now more humble, caring and compassionate, not only toward my husband, but hopefully to everyone I meet. It was a long road, a very long road. But the good news in all of this is that God keeps his promises and even if you and your spouse have fallen out of love and you do not love each other any more, God will still save your marriage. You might wonder how I can say that with such confidence and the answer is because I have lived it. I watched as God rebuilt our marriage piece by piece. He took our lost and tired love and he washed it clean with his grace and put it back together to make a love that surpasses all human love. It is truly a miracle that our marriage has risen from the ashes. In hindsight, it is no surprise that God saved our marriage, because God never gave up on us and he has not given up on you either. The question is, “Have you given up on God and his ability to save your marriage?” or “Are you willing to put down your boxing gloves and pick up your cross and let God save your marriage no matter how long he wants to take to do it?”
- Decide to love your spouse, no matter your feelings.
- Pray for yourself to grow in virtue and pray for your ability to treat your spouse better
- Pray for God to help you see your spouse as God sees them and to love them not because of what they do or do not do, but because God loves them
- Treat your spouse better: Talk nicely to them, do things for them, thank them –See examples below
Dear Lord, my God, creator and ruler of the universe. It is you that created me with all of my strengths and weaknesses. You know best the virtues that I struggle with. Help me to grow in virtue so that I can be a better spouse. Help me to suffer well and to carry the cross of my difficult marriage. Help me to react and engage with my spouse using your words and actions instead of my own. Bless and protect our marriage vows, especially during this trying time. Aid me in focusing on you and your will instead of the worldly views that tempt me every day. Today Lord, I am giving in so that you can deliver us from horrible to wonderful, in your time and in your way. By and through your grace I pray! Amen!
-by Melissa B
Suggested Language: Treating our spouse better means how we talk to them needs to change, even if they continue to be mean and difficult to us. The softness and love in our voice can go along was in changing their hearts.
Old Language: “Would you take out the trash, I have asked 5 times now!”
New Language: Say nothing and take our the trash. Find something to thank your spouse for. “I appreciate how hard you work. Thank you.”
Old Language: “You never spend time with the kids, you are always working!”
New Language: “I know you are really busy at work, but do you think you might have some time later today or tomorrow to spend some time with the boys. They really miss you!”
Old language: “Pick up your towel. I am tired of stepping over it everyday!”
New Language: say nothing and pick up the towel.
Old Language: “Another night out with your friends. Figures. You aren’t interested in being at home!”
New Language: “I know you have plans tonight. Do you think that tomorrow we could have some family time and play some games with the kids?”
Old Language: “No, I am not emptying the dishwasher. I am exhausted and it’s your job anyway!”
New Language: “I am really exhausted from the day, would it be ok if I emptied the dishwasher in an hour after I have a chance to rest?”
Old Language: “You need to keep the laundry room picked up, I hate walking through here.”
New Language: “I know you are really busy and the last thing on your mind is the laundry room. Would you care if I took a stab at organizing it?”
Old Language: “Can’t you just make the bed in the morning before you go to work, it takes just a few minutes.”
New Language: say nothing and make the bed
Hopefully you get the idea. Our words should inspire love and compassion and not be a stick we poke at our spouse. We need to put the stick down, stop poking, and show love through our words. It is the most challenging when our spouse uses their words to hurt us. Believe me, I know first hand. It is only by God’s grace that you can speak love even in difficult or impossible circumstances. Make sure you are constantly in prayer so that you can maintain the strength to speak love instead of fire!
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