By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
References “Intimacy & Desire” by Dr. David Schnarch
Marriage problems are not a sign your marriage is over. They are a sign that what you have been doing is no longer working. As you and your spouse continue to circle around the same problems, unable to solve them, there eventually comes a point when your backs are against the wall and you have no choice but to find another solution. Unfortunately, many couples resort to divorce. But that does not have to be your route if you understand what is happening in your relationship.
Marriage Problems are Not the End
Having been married over 17 years and having worked with over 100 couples through the counseling process I have found through both my personal experience and my clinical work to think of relationship problems as a turning point in your relationship rather than the end– a time for you two to grow, rather than split. These problems happen because of how relationships develop. At first it seems as if you don’t have any problems because of the euphoria of new love. But eventually the honeymoon phase wears off and you two are forced to acknowledge that your relationship isn’t perfect.
Marriage problems persist because you and your spouse are not equipped to solve them. Think of them like mechanical issues with your car. If you take your car to a mechanic who can only solve some of the problems, those remaining problems will eventually cause your car to break down. Your marriage is the same. This is why Schnarch describes the climax of marriage problems as a “midpoint” in your relationship. This culmination is an opportunity for you and your spouse to take a look at your marital shortcomings and ascertain what you need to do to strengthen your relationship.
Think of the story of Jonah. Married couples arrive at this crisis midpoint similar to how Jonah ended up in the belly of the sea creature. You both avoid dealing with your problem until you’re trapped into either dealing with it or “dying” (your marriage is what dies). But, as with Jonah, it’s not too late for the Lord to use your broken marriage to redeem you and your spouse.
How You Get to This Midpoint
Many couples assume these problems persist because their marriage isn’t meant to work out, or because they’ve changed too much to stay together. While these assumptions may be true in some cases, they are the exception rather than the rule. Marriage is not the problem. You are.
Relationships require people to be both masters and servants. You have to know when it is not worth it to compromise with your spouse (e.g. abusive situations) and when their needs must take precedence over yours (e.g. you stay home to watch the kids when your spouse is sick instead of socializing). This midpoint crisis happens because you both have been compromising on the wrong things or failing to serve when you should. Eventually your back is against the wall because your integrity will not allow you to compromise anymore, or you are both fed up with the other’s selfishness.
When you and your spouse arrive at this midpoint, you have two options: you can either end the marriage, or undertake the personal growth required to save it. “An important and often unappreciated aspect of love relationships: they push the best in us to stand up.” (39) This is why Schnarch often refers to marriage as a “crucible,” it is a vessel designed to heat and transform its contents without being destroyed by the temperature. However, like a crucible, marriage must be, “heated,” to transform its contents– you and your spouse.
Scripture often uses a similar analogy to describe how God sanctifies his children. “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” (Daniel 11:35 NIV) As this passage in Daniel shows, adversity is necessary to purge weakness. Otherwise, you will continue as you always were, never growing as a child of Christ.
The Importance of Marriage Problems
Midpoint crises are opportunities for marriage rejuvenation disguised as opportunities for marriage dissolution. With the help of a professional Christian counselor, you and your spouse can identify your individual weaknesses and how you can change to make your marriage stronger. Many people contemplating divorce do not want to leave their spouse; they want to leave their problems. You might feel the same. Consider taking advantage of this fork in the road of your relationship to step back and see how you and your spouse have contributed to your problems, and what you can do to change them. A professional Christian counselor provides a safe space for you both to air your injuries. They will structure your discussions to keep you from having the same unending fights you usually do and help you to resolve your problems.
Marriage-problems-not-end-of-relationship Flickr user sagetherapy
Fixing-marriage-problems Flickr user Friends of San Jacinto