The One Thing Guaranteed to End All Marriages
This morning I woke up to a text I’ve known for months was coming…It read, “the divorce is done.”
Despite the foreknowledge, the finality of those four simple words put an immediate lump in my throat and an ache in my stomach.
Today my parents’ marriage of 44 years is officially over. The rings have been removed, the papers have been signed, the assets have been divided…
I’m sure you saw it too, a few weeks ago our Facebook feeds were filled with posts and comments about Lysa Terkeurst, from Proverbs 31 ministries, failing marriage. My heart broke to learn that her husband, Art, much like my own father toward my mother, was “repeatedly unfaithful” to Lysa.
These stories are not uncommon. Adultery is now so “normal” that it seems rare to find a couple that hasn’t experienced it. Last February Matt and I weren’t able to get a date on Valentine’s Day and opted instead to go out the following night. We were shocked by the crowds only to learn from our waiter that the day before and the day after Valentine’s actually bring in far more money than the holiday itself due to the overspending of men on their mistresses to make up for the fact their wives got the ‘real day.’
Marriages every day are ending and it is absolutely devastating.
But I am more convinced than ever that adultery, lies, deceit, substance abuse, hiding, blame-shifting, anger, fighting…although each devastating in their own way, are merely symptoms that point to the root problem underneath it all.
Soon after I learned of my own father’s infidelity I also was told by one of my best friends that she, too, had been cheating on her husband. Both describe similar circumstances leading up to the affairs, both had felt-needs that seemingly weren’t being met and both justified their actions based on their spouse’s shortcomings. Throughout the past year and a half, the two stories have played out side by side as both couples have had to choose how to respond to one another.
One couple’s marriage is ending today. The other couple’s marriage is thriving today. How can that be? What makes the difference? Both dealt with the same circumstances, the same “problem”…yet why the polar opposite outcomes? It is not adultery that tears apart marriages…it’s hardness of heart.
Hardness of heart is the root of all failed marriages.
Hardness of heart is…
- Lacking genuine sorrow over sin.
- Continuing to go back again and again into temptation, lies, and deceit.
- Choosing to think of yourself as most important.
- Choosing what’s best for you and not the other.
- The small lies and huge lies that you convince yourself are not a big deal.
- Being unteachable.
- Tearing down with words.
- Comparing and contrasting your wrongs against the other and making the judgment that “theirs is worse.”
- Responding with defensiveness.
- The need to always be in control.
- Waiting for the other to say sorry first.
- Demanding the other change first.
- Thinking more of what you deserve instead of what you can give.
- Focusing more on being right than on becoming righteous.
- What you can get out of someone instead of how you can invest in them.
- The refusal to forgive.
- The refusal to humble yourself to ask for forgiveness.
- Saying you forgive, but never letting go.
- Asking for forgiveness and then going back to do the same thing again.
- Magnifying the weaknesses and minimizing the strengths of the other, while magnifying the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of yourself.
- Justifying wrongful actions because they “started it first.”
- Spending more time trying to find an official clinical diagnosis to explain away their issues than looking in the mirror to address your own.
- Preserving your own well-being at the expense of the other.
- Reading this list and thinking someone else should be reading this…
In order for marriages to thrive BOTH people need to guard with all diligence against hardness of heart. It has no place in marriage, yet in big ways and in small ways we let it creep in. This hardness often begins so subtly, with the smallest acts of selfishness…but left unchecked can grow to become a raging fire of wrath, anger, hatred, and bitterness.
We’ve all heard that marriage is work. And now that Matt and I have been married for over 15 years I can say I absolutely agree. But that work is far different than I ever imagined and far more challenging than I thought it was during our first few newlywed, starry-eyed years.
When I write that marriage takes work I’m not talking about the occasional act of service of helping clean the house, going to get the car washed, figuring out who takes the trash out or who cleans the toilets. I’m not talking about the effort or time it takes to figure out how to get consistent date nights, the challenges of figuring out how to raise kids together, working together to decide on what kind of house to buy, figuring out work schedules, when/where to vacation or even how often to visit the in-laws…
I’m talking about grueling, gut-wrenching, goes-against-everything-you-feel work.
I’m talking about choosing to daily lay down your life for another, looking for ways to love, to pursue, and being relentless to leave no room for distance. This kind of work is staying in conversations that are extremely difficult, learning to have the self-control to know when to pause those conversations, and then exercising the diligence to pick it back up again. I’m talking about constantly thinking past what their mouth is saying to seek out what it is their heart is saying. I’m talking about loving when the other is unlovable and respecting when the other is not respectable. This kind of work is being exhausted from the days’ events yet still making time to be present, to connect, to see, to listen, and to be a friend. It’s work to truly forgive and it’s beyond challenging to continue to walk in that forgiveness, again and again, refusing to hold onto past wrongs or hang them over their heads.
It’s work to see your spouse as a gift and to be diligent to treat them like one…even when, or should I say, especially when, they don’t deserve it.
It’s work to defer your own preferences, your own agenda, and your own feelings in order to pursue unity.
God wants us to cultivate what we have been given. But in marriage, the reality of what we have been given is often far more challenging to cultivate than we ever would have anticipated.
There is pain between expectation and reality.
This kind of work in marriage IS painful…yet it produces a bond that compares with no other. It brings about character, joy, honor, patience, perseverance, and maturity. Pressing on through the hardship of marriage not only binds two people together in an indescribably beautiful scar-filled unity but ultimately sanctifies us and causes our lives to look more and more like Jesus.
Jesus, while we were yet his enemies, laid down his life for our sake. We were ransomed from our futility by his own blood and have been born again into a new hope, a living hope, to be built up as living stones in honor of the one true God. We are a people chosen for God’s possession, for obedience, and for His glory.
Through marriage, we learn to love as Jesus does.
I urge you, dear friend if you find yourself reading this and you are not at peace with your spouse…drop whatever you are doing and begin with prayer. What is it you need to hear? Where is it you need to grow? What is it you need to change? Ask the Lord to change your heart first.
Don’t waste any time and don’t give any room for distance. If there is something you need to confess, do it. If there is something you need to forgive, do it. Carve out the time to pursue the hard conversations and ask God to give you ears to hear past their spoken words.
Look carefully for what might be deeper. Is there loneliness? fear? shame? rejection? Ask God to give you a heart that seeks to truly listen, love, repent, forgive, pursue, and serve first. Ask Him to fill you with all joy and peace and to give you resolve to love as Jesus does.
Marriage is for our good and for His glory. Let today be the day you soften your heart.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Ephesians 4:18
“By this, we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 3:16