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Frustrated in your marriage? Four ideas to ease the pain

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It’s a mistake to think one spouse can’t help (or hurt) their marriage on their own. Photo: Freepik.com
It’s a mistake to think one spouse can’t help (or hurt) their marriage on their own. Photo: Freepik.com

Over the past decade, we’ve frequently had frustrated husbands or wives approach us for help. Their marriage was in trouble, but their spouse was unwilling, or unable, to participate in one of the marriage courses we offered.

This led us to create the BreakThrough course for individual spouses in distressed marriages. Unlike most “marriage” courses, BreakThrough has no couple activities and does not require both spouses to participate; everything is designed to support and equip the solo spouse.

Here are four key ideas to ease marital frustration.

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It’s often said that it takes two to make a marriage work. Although two is clearly preferable, it’s a mistake to think that nothing can be done without the cooperation of both husband and wife.

To make this point, we often say to couples: what could you do, today, to make your marriage worse? They have no trouble coming up with lots of ideas: get flirty with someone else, criticise him/her publicly, do that thing that really annoys them etc.

Stands to reason, if we can single-handedly make our marriage worse without the cooperation of our spouse, we can also make it better. The truth is, it takes only one to damage a marriage, and it only takes one to make it better.

Idea one: dump that disempowering belief that we can’t do anything unless our spouse joins us.

Some years ago, Francine spent time with a wife who was deeply frustrated in her marriage. The woman was convinced that if Byron could simply call her husband to tell him how to shape up, it would fix it.

Despite Francine assuring her that it wouldn’t work, and that it wasn’t appropriate for Byron to do this, this wife was unmovable. She was resolute in her focus on changing her husband while simultaneously avoiding any openness to change in herself.

We can attest—from personal experience—that this NEVER works! We cannot make the other change and it is wrong-headed to try.

Idea two: Do your own interior work. You’ll feel better for it, and you’ll be more effective in inspiring change in your spouse.

If our spouse is not responding to our hints or complaints, most spouses conclude they are simply not trying hard enough. So they take it up a notch; hints become demands, complaints become threats and finally contempt sets in.

This is about as effective as using a tank to mow the lawn.

The thing is, marriage is a love relationship. Love requires us to respect the free will and autonomy of the other. If we’re engaging in coercive or threatening behaviour, we’re not honouring our spouse’s dignity.

And if by some chance we are successful in coercing our spouse to comply with our demands, we don’t have a better relationship. We have an unequal one, where we dominate our spouse.

Idea three: If you’re not making progress, change strategy. Stop the nasty threats or manipulation. Be kind and make a respectful request.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by hopelessness in a distressed marriage. The distance between where we are, and where we’d like to be, sometimes feels intractable.

Momentum is a powerful motivator. It provides proof progress is possible and gives us hope. It helps us focus on our destination rather than on how far we have to go.

A marriage doesn’t typically decline in one step and it’s unlikely to recover in one either. Even in situations of catastrophic betrayal, the relationship was eroding in secret long before the trigger incident brought it into our awareness.

A complex relationship issue may take many months, or even years, to fully resolve. The goal is not to get across the finish line in minimum time, but to maintain forward momentum.

Fast gains are often superficial and followed by back sliding. Incremental gains accumulate and are more likely to stick, becoming big accomplishments over time.

Idea four: the plan is baby steps – modest daily improvements deliver more reliably.

And finally, remember this: our marriages are ultimately God’s project. His ambition, his grace, his empowerment are the essential ingredients in sustaining our hope in a difficult situation. Don’t leave him out of the journey.

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