Hope and help for those struggling in a one-sided marriage.
I sometimes receive comments from discouraged and frustrated readers whose spouses are not meeting their needs. In many cases the comments come in response to some advice I’ve offered, stating something like “I tried that, but it didn’t work,” or “I tried that, but my spouse didn’t respond.”
I received two such comments on my previous post about how to shift your mindset to think as one. I suggested that thinking as one means “we” thinking instead of “me” thinking, to put a higher priority on the relationship than on being right, and to focus on giving instead of getting. Ideally, both husband and wife will take this “oneness” mindset, but it won’t always be that way.
A good example is one struggling commenter that suggested, “If you really want to help people in this area you need to offer suggestions as to how people like me can get the attention of people like my wife to respond in kind.”
In addition to the response I gave in comments to the post, I decided to take him up on his suggestion. Truthfully, though, this post is not so much about how to change a reluctant spouse as it is how to keep your hope alive.
No Easy Answers
There are no easy answers; no quick fixes. But here are some things you can do to move your marriage in the right direction when it feels like it is off track:
- You can’t change your spouse, you can only change you. Work on being the best spouse you can be. If your efforts are oriented toward getting your spouse to do something, or stop doing something, they will see it as manipulation and an attempt to control them.
- While loving your spouse well and meeting their needs generously often results in them coming around to offer you the same, there are no magic formulas or guarantees. Choose to love well anyway.
- Let sacrificial and unconditional love, Jesus’ kind of love, be your motivation for meeting your spouse’s needs. If your motivation is to get something from your spouse in return, disappointment will run you over, and you won’t be able to sustain it.
- It’s perfectly okay to hope for improvements in your marriage, but don’t make change a precondition for continuing to love your spouse well.
- Pray. Pray a lot. Pray mostly for God to change your heart. Pray for God to give you an intimate and lasting marriage. Pray for God to teach you how to love well. Don’t pray for God to change your spouse.
- Seek God for a revelation of how he sees your spouse and your marriage. Having heaven’s perspective will help sustain you through the worst of times.
3 Rules of Happiness
In this post, I proposed the following three axioms, which may seem at first blush to conflict with each other:
- The primary purpose of your marriage isn’t to make you happy
- You need to take responsibility for your own happiness
- Love and serve your spouse as if their happiness depended on you
Happiness is not the right goal for any marriage. Having a great marriage will certainly produce happiness, but I see it more as a by-product than a goal.
No Doormats or Enablers
The other side of the coin is that loving well does not include being a doormat or an enabler of unloving or unkind behavior. If your spouse is consistently causing you pain with their words or actions and neglecting your needs, it’s important that you speak up. As lovingly as possible, make it clear that you want a strong, enduring and intimate relationship but that the path you are on isn’t going to get you there.
Don’t issue demands or ultimatums – those only backfire. Communicate your needs. Communicate your pain. Don’t accuse or blame. Don’t impute motives to your spouse. Talk about you, your needs and how you feel. This is hard, I know.
Seek outside counsel if your issues are serious or longstanding. Sometimes it takes a third party to get you unstuck from ingrained patterns of interaction. Seek help from your pastor, from friends whose marriage you admire, or from a professional counselor.
(Important note: in the case of physical or emotional abuse, seek outside help immediately.)
God is Our Hope
Ultimately, hope for a great marriage (or just for a better one) is not in your spouse, in your self, or in your circumstances.
Hope for your marriage must be found in God. Hoping in God is not just mindless optimism or denial of the reality of the situation. Rather, it is based on a belief that God is good, that he is for you, for our marriage and for your spouse.
Trusting God to heal your marriage and make it all it can be does not relieve you of the responsibility to continue to love your spouse well or to serve him or her with your whole heart. Hope and trust do not equate to resignation or passively waiting for things to get better. No, our faith in God’s ability to move in our marriage means we partner with the Holy Spirit, day-by-day, step-by-step.
We are all called to emulate Jesus and his relentless pursuit of us, his bride. Especially when you feel your hope fading, press into Jesus and spend more time than usual in prayer and worship. Your connection to him in times of struggle can sustain you and encourage you like little else can.
The fact that God is our ultimate hope is not simply an empty platitude. It is a foundational truth.
Patience for the Long Haul
If you and your spouse have spent a long time on The Path of Separation, it’s going to take time and consistent effort to get back on The Path of Intimacy. But it is also true that until one of you turns toward the other, you are going to continue to drift further apart.
I encourage you to be the one to turn first, to reach out and to make every effort to draw closer. It’s important that your spouse see your heart and understands your desire is for renewed intimacy, not control. If you don’t get an immediate response, hang in there, keep believing for the best and loving well.
I’ve heard more instances that I can count of troubled marriages being restored and made stronger than ever due to one spouse selflessly loving the other, though in some cases it took years. Find and read testimonies of restored marriages – it will encourage your heart.
I hope and pray this post has offered some help and hope for those struggling in a one-sided marriage. I truly believe no marriage is beyond God’s power to restore. Yours included.