I spent most of Saturday digging trenches for a new playground at the church. My son Max and I had a pretty simple task for the day: dig eight, three foot deep holes for a swing set. The problem was that the ground was solid rock! We quickly brought out “little jack,” a 30lb jack hammer to help break it up. After a couple hours, I brought out “big jack,” an 80lb beast that obliterated the rock…and my back.
When Your Marriage Hits Rocky Ground
Most marriages hit rocky ground now and then. Sometimes these rocks can seem impenetrable, but I’ve seen even the most “doomed” marriages experience incredible breakthroughs. Unfortunately, I’ve watched many more couples walk away when they hit resistance and didn’t see a quick breakthrough.
When you hit rocks, you naturally look for ways around it. There were moments on Saturday when I wished we could have looked for softer ground somewhere else, but the drawings specified the exact location. It wasn’t a matter of “if” but “how” we were going to hit three feet.
Deep, life-giving marriages that stand the test of time possess that same level of commitment. The only option is breakthrough. If we hit a rock, we break out a jackhammer —and if that jackhammer doesn’t work, we bring in the heavy machinery.
Here’s a game plan for breaking through the common rocky patches that marriages encounter (not abuse or addiction)
Optional thinking leads to easy outs. We often find ourselves tempted to give up at the very moment we need to press through. In Alcoholics Anonymous meetings people say, “Don’t leave five minutes before the miracle happens.” It helps to recognize that there is a clear correlation between our threshold of pain and our potential for growth.
After taking a few swings at it and realizing you’re stuck, reach out for help. If the marriage problems are chronic but not too serious, the equivalent of a “little jack” may be all you need–reach out to some wise mentors or engage in a marriage study. If you’re still just chipping away at the problem, reach out for a “big jack”– intensive therapy with accountability (His High Places)
Be careful who you’re listening to and confiding in. Don’t confide in someone of the opposite sex and make sure you have accountability and encouragement.
Renew your personal marriage vows
Seven vows that can help reset your relationship and fortify it on a solid foundation:
- I will seek to fully hear and obey God’s word.
- I will invest time and energy in my marriage and work to become a great husband/wife.
- I will strive to resolve conflict in a biblical matter as quickly as possible.
- I will pray daily for my spouse (and with him/her if possible).
- I will seek godly, wise counsel when despair sets in.
- I will guard my heart and mouth and speak only words that build up, never tear down.
- I will love my spouse as Jesus loves me–not according to my feelings or what she or he deserves.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. —1 Corinthians 13
Take some time to personalize the vows you need to make now and place copies where they can remind you to “let perseverance finish its work.” (James 1)
A final word of encouragement…
The 2002 National Survey of Families and Households studied couples who identified their marriages with the lowest possible rankings on a scale of satisfaction, then followed up with those couples five years later. Here is what they found:
78% of unhappily married couples who avoided divorce ended up happily married five years later.
Divorce was never associated with an increase in emotional well-being.
Numerous articles and books have been written to explain these findings, but the takeaway is clear: If at all possible, hang in there! Many of the problems in a marriage can be repaired, will diminish with time, or can be understood and accepted.