By Hilary Bernstein, Contributing Writer
Sometimes marriage is hard. Very hard. One rough season of marriage might continue on for year after year.
A wife might feel like her husband isn’t showing her enough love. A husband might feel like his wife isn’t showing her enough respect. Because neither spouse feels loved or respected, no one shows love or respect.
Intimacy may be out of the question, because bitter feelings have built up.
Small annoyances may snowball, creating even bigger problems.
Communication may not be effective, because there’s been a gap for so long. Even when words are carefully chosen and spoken gently, they can be taken out of context by a fuming spouse.
If it’s any comfort, strain in marriages has existed throughout time. Couples in the Bible had their share of complicated issues:
Isaac and Rebekah
While Genesis 24:67 tells that Rebekah “became his wife, and he loved her,” matters between the two eventually turned strange. By the time that Isaac grew old and asked to bless Esau, Rebekah told Jacob exactly how he could fool his father:
“Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, “Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.” Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.’
“Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, ‘But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.’
“His mother said to him, ‘My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” (Genesis 27:5-13)
Nabal and Abigail
1 Samuel 25 recounts the story of Nabal and Abigail:
“She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings.” (1 Samuel 25:3)
When Nabal foolishly insulted King David, a dutiful servant rushed to tell Abigail the news:
“One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, ‘David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.’
“Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, ‘Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.’ But she did not tell her husband Nabal.” (1 Samuel 25:14-19)
Is there a solution?
In this imperfect, fallen world we live in, what is a frustrated, discouraged spouse supposed to do?
The most important and effective thing to do is pray. God is the only One who can change a person’s heart, and He can perform miracles in marriages. Begin by praying for your own heart and mind. Pray for the right thoughts, words, and actions. Pray earnestly. And pray the same for your spouse. Release each frustration to Jesus and ask Him to heal your marriage.
As you’re waiting for a change, remember that God can use your marriage to develop holiness in you. It may not be a pretty process at all, but He can use it to refine you and your character. It may take months for you to notice a change. Or years. And maybe you won’t ever notice a change at all. As long as you are praying and seeking the Lord with your life, He will change you.
As much as it’s possible, try to live – even in a difficult marriage – above reproach. As Ephesians 4:26 exhorts, “In your anger do not sin.”
It’s also important to remember that your spouse will never be perfect. That’s OK, because your spouse was never meant to fulfill our deepest longings and needs. In her book Finding the Hero In Your Husband, Dr. Juliana Slattery writes:
“Marriage is a mystery that is meant to awaken and illuminate our hunger for Christ. …The emptiness and disappointment that surface in marriage are not supposed to signal the end of hope, but begin the need for true hope. Marriage is not meant to satisfy, but to ignite the passion for which we were created – intimacy with God.”
How has prayer helped you as you’ve experienced difficulties in your marriage?