We all bring baggage into marriage. Hopefully, some of this is dealt with in premarital counseling but so many miss this opportunity to start their marriage on the right foot. I want to share 5 ways your marriage can get stuck, issues that if not addressed can hamstring progress even if you have sought wise counsel. Most of these roadblocks to marital satisfaction are better dealt with in biblical counseling but being aware of them can be life-giving to your marriage right now.
- Unmet Expectations
Paul Tripp is his book What Did You Expect? helps us to see that almost everyone comes into marriage with unrealistic expectations. It is as if our spouse is supposed to heal all the wounds and relationship voids from our past by loving us perfectly. We idolize marriage and inadvertently set ourselves up for disappointment after disappointment. We look to our spouse to fulfill our hopes and dreams rather than letting God set the agenda for a Christ-centered and God-exalting marriage. Couples get stuck here all the time. Not only do they hold each other hostage with felt needs, but they also don’t see how family of origin issues, unbiblical patterns of thinking, and idols of their hearts are clashing with God’s design for marriage (Gen 2:23-25; Eph 5: 22-33). We may need to go back and try to see where we are setting unrealistic expectations on our spouse based on unresolved issues from our past. We will need to get our eyes off each other’s sins and on to their own (Matt 7: 1-5). Reset right marriage expectations around Scripture (Eph 5: 22-33; 1 Peter 3: 1-7).
- Ungrieved Loss
Expectations are not the only thing that need to be unpacked if you find you are stuck in a cycle of hurt. Consider the theme of loss in your life story and your spouses. Loss of a parent, loss of a love interest before they met, loss of friends, divorce, abortion or miscarriage, etc. For most, the idea of mourning or lamenting seems odd. We think that was a while ago. We are past that. You may not see the connection to the present conflict or cycle of hurts (Psm 31:9). But if you are patient and spend some time reflecting on loss while studying selected Psalms, learning to lament you will likely realize more hope and resilience to go after present issues (Psm 30:11). Remember blessed are those who mourn for they will receive comfort (Matthew 5:4). Also, a friend or mentor to share some of their losses and how God has comforted them (2 Cor 1:3-5).
- Unconfessed Sins
This may seem more obvious and most of us may find it easier to feel conviction for pride or unbelief. But what is the “sin behind the sin”? What is at the heart of the sin cycle (Luke 6:45)? You will often find behind things like pornography or anger outbursts their exist deeper sins of deception or control. Move from confessing bad fruit to forsaking evil or inordinate desires (James 4:1-12). Study the difference between worldly and godly sorrow (2 Cor 7:9-11). I have found even things like sex before marriage might need to be confessed and forgiven as part of building back trust broken years later. You may need a counselor to help you to ask and grant forgiveness where sin has been against one another (Col 3:13). You will often find sin patterns have a long history and others may need to be part of the reconciliation process as well.
- Unforgiven Offenses
Sometimes you or your spouse is stuck in a victim stance. Bitterness, resentment, or stuffing hurts can poison the soul. If there are deep hurts or offenses in the past that have not been forgiven or submitted to God, they can cause great relational distress (2 Cor 2:5-11). It is as if every hurt comes back when triggered and the offender if repentant can feel they are being held hostage by unforgiveness. A spouse may only have a little room for grace, only so much margin because they are always right under the boiling point. You might say or hear things in your marriage like “I don’t know why that triggers me like that” or “I know it’s out of proportion, but I go from 0 to 90 in seconds” (Prov 29:11). If you feel you are stuck in a cycle of emotional volatility look back for unforgiveness and seek counsel on how to get in a position to forgive and turn the offender over to God (1 Peter 2:23). If possible reconcile if the other party is willing to repent.
- Unresolved Conflict
Conflict is inevitable in marriage (James 4:1-3). When a marriage is stuck you often find cumulative unresolved conflicts. Some marriages have more, others have less, but a marriage without conflict is usually a marriage faking peace. True peacemaking is the art of handling conflict biblically (James 3:18). It means speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15). It means keeping current with our spouse (Eph 4:27). It means having a deep abiding relationship with Christ that focuses on the mercy and grace you are receiving (Eph 2:4-10). Look back to see how conflict has been resolved in the past. What has been avoided, left unfinished, or partially addressed? Most of us when upset have a habit of attacking the person, not the problem or reacting emotionally not responding biblically. Don’t get in the rut of rehearsing present hurts and not even getting to a root issue that perpetuates a pattern of chronic conflict triggered by the next minor offense. Don’t get stuck unpacking the fight (fruit) of the week, get to the root of it. What do you desire (root) and has a good desire grown into a demand (James 4: 1-12). Repent of anywhere you own entitlement rears its ugly head and focus on the cross and Christ’s sacrifice for you.
As you do go back to resolve these things you will find you will over time get unstuck from the past and be more resilient to deal with present concerns. Spend some time in the Scriptures listed. Pay special attention if one or more of these unresolved issues struck a chord. Pray for your spouse and how to have a conversation about this with them. Seek wise counsel to help you navigate toward putting your past in its place biblically. May God bless you as you go back to go forward.