Is it possible to love someone deeply, and yet find them exasperating? People are way too complex to elicit a monochrome response to everything they do. Not only do they have good and negative qualities about them, but our response to those qualities will vary depending on how we’re doing at the moment.
For example, sometimes you can tolerate silliness, but when you’re stressed from a work deadline, that just might be the last thing you can stand. We all have things like this in our relationships.
You can imagine then that living with someone in the permanent situation that is marriage can afford a couple many opportunities to not only bless each other but also to offend one another deeply. The Bible is quite clear that marriage is a good thing, a gift from God, with verses such as this one: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22, NIV)
The Bible is quite realistic about marriage problems and what it means for two sinful people to be in a lifelong union with each other. After all, it was Job’s wife whose only lines in the entire book that explores his grief and deep anguish are not words of commiseration or mutual support as they suffer loss. Instead, she says, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9, NIV) A spouse can thus demonstrate favor from the Lord, or they can abandon you in your grief.
Every marriage has its own set of problems. There are some problems that many couples experience, such as the following:
Communication problems. This includes talking past each other, misreading non-verbal cues, or being inattentive or distracted when talking to each other. The couple may struggle with addressing conflict, or with resolving conflict without it turning into character assassination and name-calling.
Intimacy issues. This can include emotional intimacy as well as sexual intimacy.
Boredom. A couple can settle into fixed routines such that they no longer do anything unexpected and lose the spark in their relationship.
Financial issues. This includes arguments about spending, and misalignment concerning financial goals.
Parenting disagreements. A married couple with children can have very different philosophies about how to parent their kids, including discipline.
Mental health concerns. If one spouse struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD, anger issues, an eating disorder, or substance abuse disorder, that can bring the relationship under strain.
Grief and loss. A couple can experience the same loss, such as a miscarriage, but process it very differently. Depending on how they process it, they can help each other through the loss, or grow apart.
Infidelity. The sanctity of the marriage bed can be violated through an affair that devastates trust between the spouses. That affair can be a physical or an emotional one.
How couples face these marriage problems makes all the difference in the world. If the couple is equipped with the tools to communicate effectively, problem-solve, and think creatively, they can weather these storms together. Without those skills, they can end up undermining their marriage.
There are some snarky but true pithy statements about married life in the Book of Proverbs. These include the one that says, “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.” (Proverbs 27:15-16, NIV)
That seems downright offensive, and there are some other verses are just like it, such as the proverb that reads, “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.” (Proverbs 21:9, 19 NIV)
These verses should not be taken to mean that in marriage problems are only caused by women. It’s important to remember that the book of Proverbs is wisdom that is being passed onto a son, and that is why the language is gendered the way it is. Men can be just as quarrelsome as women, and they can exasperate their wives and create an annoying constant dripping just as easily.
One example of this comes in the story of Abigail and her husband Nabal. Nabal was a wealthy but stingy man. The book of 1 Samuel describes the couple this way: “His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings – he was a Calebite.” (1 Samuel 25:3, NIV)
That surliness and meanness nearly got Nabal’s entire clan killed because of his ingratitude toward David who had protected Nabal’s shepherds and their flocks. Both David and Nabal were being entirely unreasonable in the situation, but Abigail’s wise intervention both saved her husband and prevented David from incurring blood guilt through murder. One can imagine what it must have been like for Abigail to live with a man whose name and character were a fool whose folly went with him (1 Samuel 25:25).
Abigail was saved from that marriage when the Lord struck Nabal dead (1 Samuel 25:38). Other marriages come to an end because of divorce, and the Bible addresses those situations too. God’s intention was and is for marriage to be a lifelong union that binds the couple together, and they are never meant to separate.
Jesus said, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9, ESV) For Christians, that is meant to encourage a mindset of making a good effort to resolve marital tension without easy or quick resort to divorce.
Working through the dry spells.
In any marriage, there will be dry spells and times when you don’t feel loving toward one another. It might not be anyone’s fault, but you find yourselves together and yet apart. Marriage has seasons of plenty, and times when you may even begin questioning why you are together.
Life is perplexing. Its meaning is often obscure and hard to grasp. That is the meaning of the Hebrew word that is translated as ‘meaningless’ in the book of wisdom called Ecclesiastes. The word means vapor, breath, or smoke, and it conveys how hard it is to grasp life and make sense of it.
In Ecclesiastes, one of the pieces of wisdom offered by the Teacher is to “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun – all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9, NIV) It sounds a little depressing, but on further reflection, it is quite liberating.
Sometimes dissatisfaction with one’s spouse comes because we think someone else, or another pursuit will give us the meaning and satisfaction we desire. The Teacher’s sober reflection is that we’re deceiving ourselves by thinking that.
Instead of running around chasing something else he counsels people to be satisfied right where they are. You’re just as likely to find happiness in that relationship as you are anywhere else.
This is not to diminish the hardships that can attend a marriage. If there are problems in a marriage, they need to be worked on and not allowed to fester. The point is not to give up too soon or without putting in the work because marriage is more than just a social contract or an agreement between two people.
Paul says that in a remarkable and profound way, our marriages are symbols of the relationship Jesus Christ has with His people. (Ephesians 5:31-33) Even though they are imperfect, when our marriages last they symbolize God’s love for His people.
Tim Keller, an author and pastor, makes this challenging statement:
In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling.
You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love – Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
Your marriage matters, and even though you may be going through a tough time, that doesn’t mean it will be that way forever. You should seek help if there are issues in your marriage, whether through speaking with a trusted friend or talking with a professional such as a licensed marriage and family therapist.
A therapist can help you navigate the complex relationship dynamics of your marriage, and they can work with you to address the core issues that confront your marriage. Marriage therapy is quite effective and can help couples become better friends, lovers, and partners. Contact our office today to connect with a therapist that can help.
“Fighting”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Roof Peaks”, Courtesy of Julian Gentilezza, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Dripping Faucet”, Courtesy of Joe Zlomek, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Power Lines”, Courtesy of Julian Hochgesang, Unsplash.com, CC0 License