By Rhonda Stoppe, Crosswalk.com
Paula was desperate when David, her husband of ten years, stormed out the door. She knew she’d pushed him too far. Their fight was the last straw, as he put it. Over the years, Paula and David had grown apart. Since David felt like a failure in their marriage, he had devoted himself to his career––where he felt his worth.
Most of the time, Paula was lonely for David’s companionship. But whenever he was home, she found herself making dishonoring comments in an attempt to manipulate him to do better. Even when Paula knew her silent treatment was putting a wedge between them, she just couldn’t help herself. She wanted to change––she needed to change––if she was going to save her marriage. But how?
Does Paula and David’s story hit close to home? In our experience as biblical marriage counselors my husband, Steve, and I have heard variations of this scenario. Many Christian couples who attempt to put their best foot forward at church are secretly suffering behind closed doors. Perhaps you are one of those couples looking for marriage restoration.
Is there hope for you? The Bible says there is always hope for anyone who seeks God’s help. The transformation must begin with you, my friend––with you. I can hear you protest. But, she is the problem. He needs to change, not me. If my spouse would only change then we could be happy.
Here’s the thing: If you stay focused on what you think your spouse should change, your marriage is likely doomed. Even if it doesn’t end in divorce, staying married out of duty is not exactly the type of marriage most people want to endure––right? I feel so strongly about helping couples debunk this myth that I even wrote a book, titled If My Husband Would Change I’d Be Happy - And Other Myths Wives Believe!
The only thing you can control in your failing marriage is you. Your thoughts, your responses, your commitment to change. Are you ready to do the hard work to restore your marriage? I hope so. Because in the many years we’ve counseled couples, we’ve seen these biblical steps transform marriages. I believe they can help you too.
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Let’s unpack 5 necessary steps you can take to help restore your marriage:
Marriage Restoration Step 1: Repent
Did you cringe when you read the word repent? Did you bristle at the thought of having to evaluate your own contribution to your marriage trouble? I get it. When you’ve been repeatedly disappointed, it’s difficult to see past the hurt and honestly evaluate your own heart. But if you’re wanting to restore your marriage, repentance is the first step toward healing and hope.
If you’ve become so focused on how your spouse doesn’t measure up to your expectations, you’ll be unable to see your own contribution to your marital discord. And if you stay stuck in rehearsing your spouse’s lack, there will be no hope for true restoration.
Resentful thoughts and manipulative comments will never accomplish good in your marriage. Instead, they’ll drive a wedge between you and your spouse. Don’t let this continue, or else one day restoration may seem impossible. (Listen: Staying in Love)
Ask God to help you search your own heart. Pray daily as the psalmist did: “Search me O God and know my heart, try me and know my anxieties, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24-25 emphasis added).
If you honestly ask God to reveal your sin, He will be faithful to show you sins for which He would have you repent (Note: repent means to agree with God that your actions are sinful).
As you repent, ask God to forgive you and help you turn from your habitually sinful responses. A spouse who is willing to evaluate their own sin, repent, and turn in obedience to Christ will find the strength to do what it takes to restore your marriage.
Step 2: Resist
Resist unforgiving thoughts. Ok, I can hear your protest. Why should I practice forgiveness when my spouse’s behavior is unforgivable?
To help, here’s an example from my book, Real-Life Romance:
Chuck and Angie’s marriage was on the rocks. His pornography addiction had broken her heart and created a rift between them. But God showed Angie how He would have her respond. Angie says, “What helped me was when I finally realized that my sin of unforgiving Chuck was just as sinful as his addiction.”
Once Angie owned her own sinful response, she was ready to ask God’s forgiveness. And as she wrestled daily with her own sin, she found God’s Spirit gave her His peace and strength to pray powerfully for God to change her husband. And change he did.
James 5:16 promises, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power in its working.” When you regularly practice forgiving your spouse, your heart will be pure and your prayers will be powerful.
Note to reader: to truly be seen as righteous in God’s eyes, you must first surrender to Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
For those who are truly born again, God sends His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them to live righteous lives. If you ask God to show you your sin toward your spouse, you can repent and turn from it. Then your prayers for God to transform your heart and to do a work in your spouse will become a powerful force.
Related Resource: Listen to our new, FREE podcast on marriage: Team Us. The best marriages have a teamwork mentality. Find practical, realistic ideas for strengthening your marriage. Listen to an episode here, and then head over to LifeAudio.com to check out all of our episodes:
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Marriage Restoration Step 3: Remember
Think back to when you were falling in love. I remember a time before we were married when I longed for Steve to notice me. I was a high school cheerleader. When I arrived at a basketball game to cheer, Steve happened to be playing an alumni game. When I walked into the gym, our eyes met. He winked at me and it took my breath away.
Why do I share that memory? Because it is just one of many magical moments I like to recall. Remembering how much I wanted Steve to fall in love with me is a helpful way to stir my heart toward gratitude for my spouse. And this practice can do the same for you.
Now, before you start thinking, Yes, but remembering how sweetly romantic my spouse was before we were married only causes me to resent that they no longer make that effort … I didn’t say it would be easy to recall the early days of your love. It will likely be painful to ponder how far from love you’ve fallen. But ask God to help you with this effort by thinking about what is good, right, and honorable about your spouse (see Philippians 4:8-9). You fell in love by dwelling on your spouse’s good qualities, and this practice is the key to restoring your love.
A word of caution: Remembering the good is to rekindle love, not to sow sower grapes of resentment. Hebrews 12:15 warns that bitterness will spring up trouble and defile many. This includes your marriage––and your children, if you have them.
During the 20 years my husband and I were in youth ministry, we observed the damage bitterness does to children. When your kids realize your hypocrisy, the enemy can use it to drive them away from Christ.
However, if your children observe your commitment to remember your love for your spouse, and respond with forgiveness even if they don’t measure up, God can use your example of selfless love to draw your kids to Christ. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? With God’s help, your light can shine brightly even if your spouse never meets your expectations.
Step 4: Recall
Recall the type of spouse you meant to be on the day you said, “I do.” When my husband and I speak at marriage conferences, eyes fill with tears when we ask, “Are you the spouse you meant to be?”
Most of us had in mind the wonderful ways we were going to encourage our love when we wed. But somewhere along the way, we lose sight of that vision. Between the work involved in raising a family, career pressures, and financial struggles, it’s easy to lose our way. However, it is possible to find your way back––even if your spouse isn’t interested in restoration.
With God’s help you can become the kind, loving, and forgiving spouse you dreamt you’d be. One encouragement the Lord offers is through other believers who’ve walked the path ahead of you. Titus chapter 2 instructs older godly believers to teach the younger. As a young wife and mother, when I knew I’d lost my way, I looked to older, happy couples in our church whose marriages I wanted to emulate.
I didn’t go to the couples and say, “Hey can you help me fix my husband?” Rather, I went to the wives, vulnerably revealing my desire to change. These women were not perfect. They were genuine. They shared with me stories from their own marriage successes and failures. When I invited them to be my marriage mentors, God used them to help me discern areas He would have me change and grow.
Of all the relationships in my life, these friendships with older mentors have been most instrumental in helping me become the wife I longed to be. And finding godly mentors will help you too because their honest insights can help you recall and become the spouse you meant to be.
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Marriage Restoration Step 5: Renew
You can know that it is God’s pleasure to renew broken marriages because this brings Him glory. God knows that when His children are distracted by unhappy marriages, it renders them powerless for the Kingdom work He has planned to do in and through their lives (Ephesians 2:8-10).
But how does one go about renewing their love for their spouse? You may be surprised to learn that the way to deeply loving your spouse does not lie in how well they measure up to your expectations. Rather, loving your spouse well is found in how deeply you love God.
When Jesus was asked to reveal the priority of life, He responded: “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-30).
Let’s explore this, shall we? The purpose for which we are created is to walk in a loving relationship with our Creator. When we look to a spouse (or anyone else) to make us feel treasured, we will be disappointed because no person can give us our worth. But when a person devotes themself to knowing God’s character, as He reveals it in Scripture, they will grow to love Him with all of their being.
Deepening your love for God is the secret to loving your spouse well. When your love for God is your priority, then Jesus’ second commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, becomes a natural outpouring of His selfless love from your heart onto others––beginning with your spouse.
If you believe you are falling out of love with your spouse––if marriage restoration seems to be out of reach––take to heart the five steps in this article. Ask God for help, realizing that Christ is most glorified when He works amid impossible odds.
The Lord is more interested in restoring your marriage than you are. A marriage restored by the power of His great love is a light that shines brightly the hope of Christ to a watching world who desperately needs to know that Jesus is the hope they seek (For more marriage help, watch this Free Marriage Course with Steve & Rhonda Stoppe).