Four years into marriage, I stood alone in our house staring at a sailboat painting on the wall. My husband, Jason, had left for work after another hurtful conversation. It was probably something as simple as our different parenting strategies, which many times brought our defenses up and left us feeling resentment. How do I make my marriage work when my parents’ marriage did not? Now my own marriage was struggling.
If your parents are divorced or their marriage is struggling, you’ve probably felt afraid that your own vows might break into pieces. In fights, you or your spouse may say things that sound just like your parents’ fights. Maybe you stood in the aisle on your wedding day and whispered a vow never to make the same mistakes they made. You may be asking, “How do I make my second marriage work?”
If your parents are divorced, you’ve experienced brokenness. If you’ve breathed today, you’ve experienced brokenness. Internal alarms went off when my husband and I faced challenges. Wasn’t my marriage supposed to be smooth sailing? Why were we so angrily exchanging cutting comments? Did my parents face our same struggles in their marriage? I had decided it was up to me to make our marriage last, but it wasn’t going well. I began to identify with my parents’ brokenness. Only when we start looking our brokenness in the eye can it tell us the truth.
King David had some human inadequacy to face. He made several marriage mistakes—including an affair. He kept depending on God. In Psalm 51 ESV he prayed:
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do you find yourself laying out all of your heart to God, or are you depending on yourself, your offerings and sacrifices, and your divorce prevention to make it work? The harder I worked as the marriage-saver, the more I hated losing my temper or disappointing my husband. Lighten your load. Do you believe God is daunted by hardship in your marriage? God actually delights in our need for Him. If perfection and divorce prevention worked, you wouldn’t need God.
How do I make my marriage work now? As I cried in front of the painting, I realized for the first time there are actually three people on the sailboat. How had I never seen them before? There were three dark figures, and God was teaching me something through them! I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t even just the two of us. Jesus always had been and always will be in the boat with my husband and me. We don’t have to fear divorce or overspend ourselves trying to singlehandedly prevent it. We can grow together as we face our inadequacy with Jesus in our boat.
- Give yourself permission to be broken. This one feels awkward at first. Who wants to mess up? When you make a mistake or you feel distant from your spouse, ask God how He sees you and your marriage. Forgive yourself and ask God for His forgiveness.
- Say a prayer of forgiveness for your parents whenever you start to blame or belittle their marriage. When you forgive your parents for their marriage failures, your marriage can have freedom to grow through difficulty. (Colossians 3:13)
- Take one brave step. Whether it’s starting a Bible Plan, saying yes to marriage counseling together, or writing out a vision statement as a couple, take the next brave step toward facing your fears knowing God is with you. (Joshua 1:9)