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What To Do When Your Marriage Doesn't Work

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I hear often from discouraged husbands and wives who say their marriage simply does not work. They feel they have tried everything – even love and respect – and it didn't work. They are ready to give up. If this describes you, are you willing to try a new approach?

But my spouse doesn't respond!

What is your worst fear in marriage? Is it that you will do all you can to love and respect unconditionally but your spouse will not respond? If so, you are not alone in that fear. After all, it takes two, right? And if your spouse has already given up, there is nothing left to do.

Technically, that may be true. If one partner has determined in their heart that nothing…NOTHING…is going to change his/her mind and they are hell-bent on pursuing their own selfish ends, such a marriage might not be saved. People do betray, like Judas betrayed Jesus. That’s why adultery is so destructive. Infidelity betrays.

On the other hand, who truly knows a person’s heart but God? An angry, hurt person may do things they truly don’t want to do in their deepest heart. Though the person appears hardened, they may be protecting their real feelings. Thus, what seems hopeless is not hopeless to God. The Lord sees underneath. He sees this person’s feelings of insecurity and insignificance.

So what can you do?

First of all, if you feel fear and hopelessness taking over, pray against this fear. 1 Peter 3:6 tells us to do what is right without being frightened by any fear. If you aren’t sure how to pray about this, go to a Pastor of a Bible believing church and ask him to pray with you.

Secondly, don’t give up! Things don’t change overnight. Don’t think that when you try a new approach, such as unconditional love and respect, that your spouse will respond immediately. For example, if trust has been broken, it will take time to rebuild the trust.

Let me add, I am not saying that you should stay in an abusive situation where you or your children are in danger! That is another issue entirely. I am also not telling you to roll over and ignore sin. To read what I have to say about abuse and sinful behavior, click here.

Things may get worse before they get better.

In some cases things appear to get worse when love and respect is applied. The receiving spouse is skeptical and even angry that his/her spouse is switching behavior and then expecting immediate forgiveness for all the past pain. Or he/she is afraid to believe in the change for fear of being let down and hurt even more.

Be honest. If your spouse has hurt you for 5, 10, 15 years and then suddenly changes his/her behavior, would you trust that he/she has changed overnight? Or even in a month? Probably not.

May I challenge you even further? In those cases when you feel unconditional love or unconditional respect has failed to impact your spouse, can you honestly say you were consistent in your behavior? I am not suggesting perfection…none of us can do this perfectly! But think of it this way: are you consistently making more loving and respectful deposits than unloving and disrespectful withdrawals?

Admit when you fail.

Learning new ways of responding (and not reacting) is hard work. Old habits die hard, and they often flare up when we least expect them to…like rolling the eyes or mumbling “whatever” under our breath. But these old habits can be the death blow to your spouse who may use it as proof that you haven’t changed at all. So when you fail...and you will fail...admit it to your spouse, and try, try again. Make some more deposits. Over the long haul, your spouse will recognize your efforts but you must stay the course.

There is no IF.

When you love or respect unconditionally, you are following God and His will for you. Ultimately, your spouse and your marriage have nothing to do with that decision.

I know that sounds crazy! But hear me out. The command in Ephesians 5:33 does not say “Love your wife IF she respects you.” Nor does it say, “Respect your husband IF he loves you.” When you obey the command in Ephesians 5:33 to love your wife or respect your husband, you are simply demonstrating your obedience and trust in the face of an unlovable wife or a disrespectable husband.

Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”(Matthew 5:46). Jesus could have had your troubled marriage in mind when He said that.

Everything you do counts.

I believe Paul also had your marriage in mind when he penned Ephesians 6:7-8: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free” (NIV). Paul is saying that whatever we do as to the Lord we will receive back from the Lord. In marriage, everything you do counts, even if your spouse ignores you or does not love and respect you in return.

Live the Rewarded Cycle.

Unconditional love and unconditional respect will be rewarded. I call this the Rewarded Cycle. His Love Blesses Regardless of Her Respect; Her Respect Blesses Regardless of His Love.

If you are feeling alone in your marriage, and your spouse is not responding to your efforts, will you allow this to encourage you? You are not alone. Your efforts to love and respect unconditionally are not going unnoticed by God! He is for you and He WILL honor you for your obedience.

Will you begin to live in the Rewarded Cycle starting today?

-Dr. E

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider