I am always grieved when I hear about another marriage that has ended in divorce, but I am also saddened by the many couples I know of who stay together but live with disappointment, having long ago given up on believing their relationship can ever be all they had hoped for. If that’s where you are, I want you to know that it is possible to turn a hopeless marriage into a hope-filled one.
Doing so involves concentrating on five things that your marriage needs less of and five things it needs to be filled with—and the key to each one lies in your hands. Commit to your marriage restoration with:
1. Less complaining.
What you feed grows. Decide to spend less time focused on all that you think is wrong with your marriage in general or your spouse in particular. You can choose whether or not to let negative thoughts roll around in your head; just shut them up and shut them down. And don’t grouse about your spouse openly to other people—especially not your children.
2. Less blaming.
Don’t automatically think that any problems that you and your spouse may be facing are due to their wrong thinking or attitude. Be humble enough to acknowledge that it could be that you’re the problem. Also, look at any issue you may face as something that can bring you together to deal with, as a team, rather than apportioning responsibility and letting it divide you.
3. Less comparing.
Spending too much time looking at all the things other people have or envying other couples’ marriages is only going to increase your dissatisfaction. Remember when you long for a marriage like theirs that you are often only seeing the highlight reels of others’ lives, their best faces.
4. Less withholding.
There’s a natural tendency for us to withdraw when we feel we aren’t getting what we want from a relationship. Sometimes that is a form of protection—we don’t want to be vulnerable and get hurt—but it can also be a form of punishment. Turning down physical intimacy is often used as a silent weapon to get back at your spouse. Remember, marriage is a covenant, a forever commitment to love the other person, not a contract in which you only give to them when they give to you.
5. Less escaping.
When people mentally and emotionally check out of their present circumstances, they often let their hearts and minds wander somewhere else—whether that’s towards another person, or to past-times and pursuits that bring them comfort and relief. For instance, the guy who is always out fishing, or the woman who disappears into romance novels. Running away won’t help.
Having made some more room in your mind and heart through this clearing out, let’s add some positive things. Decide to be:
6. Filled with kindness.
Little gestures can make a big difference. They tell the other person that you notice them, that you care about them, that you are thinking of them. Treat your spouse well and see how they begin to respond. It’s not hypocritical to do something when you don’t feel like it, but it can be hypocritical not to do something because you don’t feel like it. Remember, you made a commitment to love your spouse no matter what.
7. Filled with patience.
Chances are your marriage did not fall into its current discouraging state all of a sudden. And it’s not likely that things will turn around overnight, either. But just as you slid slowly into the gray, you can gradually make your way back into the light by exercising patience. It’s actually the first quality of love listed in the famous Bible passage often quoted at wedding ceremonies, 1 Corinthians 13.
8. Filled with gratitude.
One way to develop contentment is to focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t. Forget for now what may irritate you about your spouse. Instead, make a list of the things that you appreciate about them. Start by recalling what first attracted you to them, and go on from there. If they do something nice for you, thank them.
9. Filled with contentment.
In a culture that is based on convincing us that there’s always something else we need—a new gadget or another vacation, if not a more exciting relationship—it’s not easy to be happy with what you have, but that inner peace needs to be the foundation of our lives. As the saying goes, the happiest people don’t always have the best of things but make the best of the things they have.
10. Filled with forgiveness.
By now, you may be ready to acknowledge that much of the ho-hum in your marriage may be because of you. But of course, there are ways in which your spouse may be failing too. This is where you get to extend the grace you’d like to experience yourself. As you let go of resentment and blame, you will find your heart softening. Finally, be sure to be the first to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Here are some guidelines on how to ask for forgiveness.
Which two or three of these things could you adopt today to begin to turn your marriage around? Remember, there is always hope. Share your thoughts and experiences here.