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The importance of this list is that the problem is rarely a spouse not seeing there is a problem, but there are hindrances or inhibitors that keep them from working on the marriage. Like the wife who says, “My husband does not talk.” He does communicate, but he does not talk to her. When someone says, “My spouse does not see a problem in our marriage,” they are probably missing the real issue. Something has caught them, keeping them from working on the marriage. Here are twenty-two possibilities.
If your marriage is off-kilter, I’m sure several of these things contribute to the problems. The most significant and obvious matter is that they are on two different pages. Typically, one spouse is more in tune with what is going on and knows things have to change. The other spouse is in a sin pattern(s) that is now evident. As the patterns persist, the other spouse will insist on things changing, though transformation is not a guarantee.
Whatever the problems may be, the most critical issue is the spiritual dynamic: something is wrong between the husband, wife, and God. You can see how the first seven items have a spiritual component to them. Though everything listed relates to spirituality, #8-22 are manifestations, outcomes, or behaviors of the first seven. One through seven represents a person’s authentic spirituality or how they relate to God. The difference between the two sections is between who a person is and what a person does. If God is actively working in a person’s heart, the destructive behaviors in the marriage should autocorrect eventually.
For example, a spouse would be willing to set aside their preferences (#22) if they had a profound and growing affection for Christ (#1). If they do not have a deep and growing love for Christ, marital disunity will continue. This issue is one of the things that is so troubling about people getting married. The couple gives a courtesy nod to spiritual affections while elevating other stuff like (1) compatibility, (2) similar preferences, (3) family background, (4) personal appearance, (5) financial considerations, and whether they (6) “go to church” or not. While all of these have their ranking in the “who I want to marry” lineup, none of them are more critical than spiritual affections.
Many pastors and counselors are more interested in testing the aspiring couple for compatibility than discerning the couple spiritually. Before there were psychological evaluations, there was spiritual discernment. It does not take much to know if a person is a good fit for marriage. Sadly, spiritual affections get pushed to the side. After five years (or less), they begin drifting apart. If they have children within this timeframe, they can chug along because of the distractions of being a family. Perhaps they limp to the empty nest stage before their ongoing problems intensify.
If a spouse has a strong, deep, and growing affection for God, there is a good chance the person they choose will want to be like them (1 Corinthians 11:1). Christ had deep affections for His Father, which positioned Him to help others mature as Christ-followers. Notice the formula: His affection for the Father impacted those around Him (John 6:38). Imagine if a boyfriend or husband had a fixation on doing the will of God. Wow! This kind of spiritual attitude would enable him to overcome any marital challenge. Go back to the six things that some lovers look for in a marriage partner. Apply them to Christ. They all would fall woefully short.
Jesus had one thing that made Him a great catch. He loved His Father with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you’re not happily married, you may react with, “Well, thanks, Rick. That’s great. I see it now, but I’ve made my bed, and it’s pretty darn uncomfortable to sleep in when considering who is sleeping beside me. What do I do now?” I’m not saying these things to rub your nose in an immature or unwise decision, but if I can break up immoral or unwise dating relationships, what I’ve said is well-worth hearing.
But what about you? You married a person who does not have deep and growing spiritual affections. What do you do? What can you do? The first thing to consider is what I’ve said about spiritual affections. Your spouse must change their relationship with God before focusing on marriage issues. If you are growing apart, the biggest problem is your spouse’s understanding and application of the gospel.
The gospel is about God reconciling humanity to Himself. It’s about unity, healing, redemption, adopting, justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying. These are some of the things that the gospel does. If you and your spouse are growing apart or managing the status quo, the gospel has lost its power in your relationship. The gospel is where you must begin. Your marriage is not something you can fix through your strength or a self-help marriage book. The gospel is not something to purchase, manipulate, bargain with, or control. It is a work of grace—free gift—in a person’s life.
We came to know the gospel because of God’s free grace, which empowered us to change. May I remind you again? Rarely does someone need a “new truth.” What they need is an old truth. They need reminding of what they already know. They need to hear the gospel again. Carefully read this passage, and as you do, think about what you already know about the gospel. Consider how free it was and how you could not make it happen. God, according to His mysterious mercy, made it happen to you.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).
You probably already discerned the first place you have to go regarding your spouse and their lack of spiritual connectivity. It’s to your knees. If you want your spouse to love you the right way, you have to go to the Father on their behalf. A person cannot love anyone correctly, effectively, or sufficiently until they love God most of all. Our hearts (#1-7) and behaviors (#8-22) must not be out-of-sync. If our hearts and actions mirror each other, we will learn how to love each other correctly. No person can love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and not love their spouse and others wonderfully well.
The best and the most helpful thing you can do is spend time before your heavenly Father, on behalf of your spouse, pleading for His mercy to be let loose for His glory and mutual benefit. Once you properly align your heart with the Lord and actively seek Him on behalf of your spouse, you want to spend time assessing yourself. A few good friends are vital at this point.
Few things are more potent than a transforming life. If the gospel transforms you, it will give your spouse fewer reasons to fuss. If you talk to your spouse about assessing you, prepare for an inappropriate response. If you ask how you can change or serve your spouse more effectively, they may tell you unkindly, and you may not hear the truth wrapped up by their unkindness. (If your spouse is a fool, who is unwilling to have a civil conversation with you, I do not recommend talking with them. That kind of marriage is beyond the scope of some of the ideas I’m sharing with you.)
Let’s say your spouse is 75 percent off in their assessment. Did you hear the 25 percent of truth within the unkindness? It takes a spiritual person to listen to the truth when the message is harsh or partly inaccurate, but if you’re more interested in God’s glory than your feelings, you will be okay. God will give you grace, and you can change. Christ had to ignore a lot of our nonsense to honor His Father. We were the knuckleheads who regularly messed things up, but His focus was not on His felt needs.
He kept His eye on the ball. Perhaps the Spirit of God wants to address something in your life. Maybe He will use a knucklehead to bring it to light. Listen to what the Spirit wants you to hear and make those changes. What you don’t want to do is get in the way of God’s work. If there are two problems on the table, start by taking one of them off the table. Though God can efficiently multitask by working on both of you simultaneously, why not cooperate with Him by keeping in step with the Spirit and making the changes you need to make?
May the Lord devote His total effort to your spouse. Be the Father’s cooperative servant. It could be that your spouse will not change or maybe not change according to your timetable. I do not understand why it would be that way, but I do know it can be, and it has been for many spouses. This possibility is where you will have to check your heart. A few close friends can serve you here. God is not obligated to tell you His plans or give you what you want the way you want it. He has called you to do one thing: trust Him.
Your marriage is an act of faith. You never know what you’re going to get from it. But there is one thing that you can find rest and assurance in, and it’s this: God loves you, and He is working for your good (Romans 8:28). There have been many times when it was hard to believe what I just typed. You must often remind yourself of this message, especially if your spouse does not change. Regardless of the outcome, you will stand in heaven and praise God for every decision the Lord made and how He led you all the way.
My former wife left me in 1988 for another man and took our two children with her. It was the worst possible nightmare. If you have lost your children, you understand. If you have children, you feel the pain in your soul as you think about losing them. Never in a million years would I want to repeat those ten years, but I would not change them for anything—at this point. In that crucible of unrelenting suffering, I found God—many years after He regenerated me. While I often sinned during those days, God never left me. He always persevered with me. God was stunning. He has never changed.
I look back on those days and praise God for the journey. Sometimes I praise Him through tears because sin leaves marks. Perhaps you can’t praise God today, and you don’t think you ever will. Let’s be honest: if you know Him, you will praise Him someday. You know God is with you, and He will not leave you. He is working His best in your life. Your issues are more about:
Those five things can converge in your mind and put you in a spiritual funk if you allow them. Still yet, God is with you. Though you may not be able to persevere with God, He will persevere with you. He is there, and He will bring you through this situation. Someday you will see and know these things to be true, and your affections for God will be more intense than they are now.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).