When My Marriage Seemed Hopeless, What Made Me Stay?

I’m a big proponent of reading Christian marriage books. I have gleaned a lot of wisdom from biblically based writing about the marital relationship and practical advice on making marriages work.

That said, I’m coming clean today. I wasn’t reading a Christian marriage book when I decided to stay in my marriage even though things seemed utterly hopeless. I was reading a secular book that I researched and bought online, hid from my husband, and read in secret. Mind you, I’m not suggesting any of that. I’m simply giving my own confession.

Husband & Wife separated by a wall

Since you’re probably wanting to know the book’s title, I’ll give it to you — but don’t run out and buy it! It was Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Decide Whether to Stay in or Get Out of a Relationship by Mira Kirshenbaum. Why do I say don’t buy the book? Because it wasn’t the book that made me stay. It was the foundation of faith I had as I read through the chapters.

One by one, the author went through various problems a relationship can have and signs that indicate things could improve or not. If a situation is unbearable and unlikely to change, the reasonable choice is to leave. Right?

But as I read through the book and sorted through the problems — some laid out in eerie resemblance to my own marriage — I realized I was willing to live with a lot more than I originally thought and I believed my God was a lot bigger than I’d originally thought.

I’m years down the road from that moment, but I vividly remember holding that book in my bathtub (where I love to read, thank you very much) and the reality that I wanted to leave my marriage hitting me like a brick in the gut. And that punch made me wonder if I had another choice — if despite the few chapters that subtly encouraged me to back out, I could find a way to honor my covenant.

Admittedly, my marriage was not dealing with any of the three awful A’s — adultery, abuse, or addiction — which are especially difficult to surmount. However, my marriage looked like Humpty-Dumpty at the time. It seemed that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put our marriage back together again. But what about the King himself? Did I believe His reassurances that I could reap good if I sowed according to His Word?

How do you know when to stay? I can’t answer that question for anyone else. I do know for certain two things:

  1. Several years down the road, I am a happily married woman. Happily. And I am ever-so-thankful that God pricked my heart and encouraged my soul, and that I stayed with my husband and kept my family intact.
  2. Research has shown that  2/3 of unhappy spouses who stayed married reported their marriages were happy 5 years later. And the most unhappy marriages had the best results, with 8 out of 10 spouses who reported “very unhappy” marriages and avoided divorce being happily married 5 years later. (See more about the study.)

What factors did I use to ultimately stay in an unhappy marriage and create a holier, happier marriage?

  • Even if I didn’t feel loved at that moment, I knew my husband had loved me. I held onto that truth and believed we could rekindle our love.
  • I was convicted that I’d been waiting for my husband to change. When I looked at the issues brought up in this secular book, I recognized that if he were reading it, he’d have grounds to leave me. So clearly, I hadn’t done everything I could do to be the wife God wanted me to be.
  • We had children, and he was a loving father. We disagreed then about parenting approaches, but we’d created human beings together and I knew he cared for them. I wasn’t ready to separate my kids from their dad.
  • We experienced good sexual intimacy, which reminded me of our deep, one-flesh connection. Our satisfying sex life was a reminder of our unique relationship and our continued desire to be together.
  • I believe God could turn us around, because I’d seen how He turned me around. I’d gone from premarital promiscuity to many years of monogamy with my husband — and he was still the only one I truly sexually desired. With God’s intervention in my life, something had changed in my core. So I knew what was possible.
  • I remembered specific verses and stories in the Bible about waiting on the Lord, sowing patiently before the harvest arrives, and being spiritually rewarded for following God’s commands (even if it meant that my marriage continued to struggle for the time being). Galatians 6:7-10 says:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

I suspect too many spouses give up before they can reap the spiritual reward of being diligent in their marriage. For most marriages, there is also a reward in the relationship — the marriage improves. Sometimes drastically.

I’ve got my own testimony about hopeless to happy. I’d love to hear yours.

Did you move from hopeless to happy? What helped you stay in your marriage? Are you struggling right now?

21 thoughts on “When My Marriage Seemed Hopeless, What Made Me Stay?

  1. elizabeth

    We are going trough a very very difficult time – we had one of the big A’s featuring, but have decided to fight for our marriage. i can tell you, 4 months in, and i still wonder if its the right thing to do. However, God is pressing it so clearly on my heart that its the only thing to do… we are going through a BIG healing process and I believe that things will turn out for the best!!!

  2. Jason@SongSix3

    I’m so glad that both my wife and I decided (at different times throughout our 27 years of marriage) to stay. And now that we’ve walked through so much together – INCLUDING those “Awful A’s” – we both know that in Christ, we can handle anything. And because of those experiences in our history, we’ve learned to put solid brick walls between ourselves and those things that have tempted us in the past. Hard lessons learned have taught us how to never allow ourselves to be in those vulnerable positions again.

    For those who may have walked the adultery/abuse/addiction road, and think you can never fully trust again – never fully love again – I’m here to tell you… YES, you can – IF you will trust Jesus to walk with you through that fiery furnace. (See Daniel 3:25) We’ve walked through that furnace, and I am CRAZY about my wife!

    Thanks Miz J! Great post, and you too made the right choice! Good on ya!

    1. J Post author

      Thank you so much for sharing that story, Jason! I wanted to be honest that we didn’t have those three A’s, but I wholeheartedly believe they are surmountable as well — with God’s gracious help.

  3. Amy

    Been through an “A” — as well as drift, zero intimacy which encouraged zero sex (all leading to an A), and live to tell about it.
    I agree, J, that reading Christian marriage books provides a wealth of experience and knowledge that we glean from bit by bit. Like reading the Bible, we need to read and reread truths in order to learn. We need review, and we must learn from our mistakes. We need to see ourselves for the slackers we can be — and that we need God’s work in our hearts as much as the spouse we like to blame for everything. 🙂
    I think the one overwhelming factor in backing out of marriage stands in an unwillingness to work for the long-term. I have met women who want to wait for him to make the first move, who want to receive in equal measure for what they give, and who want to see a quick-fix. All point to self-interest. Our culture encourages these things, and so, it’s right. Right?
    Thank you for writing out what I know to be true. Those of us who have hit slippery slope and diligently followed God’s path (yes, with mistakes and wrong turns and even backsliding) and who refuse to quit, find that new life grows.

  4. Coleen

    My marriage seems hopeless right now and your words are encouraging, however, my marriage may contain all of the three A’s. My husband is addicted to pornography which in my mind is some form of adultery, and although it may not be physical abuse, it sure feels like emotional abuse. I am at the point of should i stay or should go? Any advice?

    1. Beth

      Coleen, I am so sorry you are living through an addiction! I’ve been in the same boat as you, and fully believe that pornography addiction is adultery. Your husband is lusting after women other than his wife, and is moreover acting on those lusts. He is also re wiring his brain in so many destructive ways. Emotional abuse seems to be tied up with porn addiction because they blame shift and deflect guilt onto you, so I definitely know what you mean by feeling like this is emotional abuse. It probably is. I’ve been living with my husband for seven years and it is the most confusing, hurtful, destructive life being married to a porn addict. I can’t tell you whether to stay or go. I will say that I have nearly separated many times, but am so glad I didn’t. After seven years of living hell, God is finally answering my broken pleas for mercy and He has done a crazy heart change in my husband. We are no where near healed, but there is hope. Not in your husband but in your Father who loves you more perfectly than any earthly father could. Marriage is worth fighting for, though depending on your situation a short separation could be in order for healing if you need that. I highly recommend reading “When Your Husband Is Addicted To Pornography” by Vicki Tiede. I am just about halfway through and it has been immensely healing. I just wish it had been around six years ago when I first found out. I am praying for you this morning, sweetheart. You are beautiful and you are NOT to blame for your husband’s addiction.

    2. Diana

      Coleen, I’ve been where you are. My husband was DEEP in porn for years. When we started dating, he told me that he was quitting it for me, which sounded pretty good. What I didn’t realize then is that addictions that deep take a long time to break. It wasn’t a “quit cold turkey” kind of deal, and he’s had a few relapses in the four years we’ve been married. Each relapse has felt awful; I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest! I even debated divorce a few times, too. But I can tell you, in my experience, if you can forgive your husband and remember that God forgave him way before you felt like you could, you can get through this. The way I saw it, if he was willing to be faithful to me and break his addiction, then I could keep trying too.

  5. Amy

    I do not have a story of a redeemed marriage, but I have a story of a redeemed life.
    I lived in an abusive marriage for 20 years which ended in divorce over three years ago. I do believe that God can work miracles and redeem anything, even abuse like in Jason’s case — and for me that is part of what held me in that marriage for so long. That and fear.

    You are correct that change has to begin with us. We cannot change our spouse, we can only work on ourselves. In the end though, it does come down to two people choosing to make a change in themselves and the marriage. And this becomes a problem especially when abuse is involved.
    The victim of abuse will often try ever so hard to change enough to make the abuse stop, when it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the abuser choosing to change.
    And one of the biggest mistakes is to have a couple seek marriage counseling when abuse is involved because abuse is NOT a marital issue. Abuse is an individual problem which needs to be dealt with and resolved if possible before working on any marriage issues that may be present. Abuse does not evolve from marriage problems, abuse happens regardless.

    God did redeem my life though. I have been remarried for almost three years and now know what a healthy marriage is. We have our ups and downs, but there is mutual respect and love which I never knew before. And now when I work on myself because I know I have a lot of faults (even if my dear hubby chooses to overlook them 😉 ), I know that the work I do on myself is not in vain and my marriage will thrive because of the work I put into it.

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  7. A Happy Hubby

    I don’t think I have read one of your posts that wasn’t at least “good” and most are “very very good.” Thank you for all your efforts.

    It is painful to read ” 2/3 of unhappy spouses who stayed married reported their marriages were happy 5 years later”. I have read that many times. Now that we are inching up to 30 years of marriage, I have passed that 5 year mark almost 6 times now. And just returning from a vacation with the 2 of us has just cemented even more that I know short of some miracle, I don’t think another 5 years of effort is going to make a change. I have had to come to grips with that and decide that I can live with that.

    1. J Post author

      Thank you. And this is one of those cases (too many out there) when I just wish there was some magic pill. God’s too wise to make it that easy (He’s trying to grow us!), but it does make for some sad situations. There’s a lot of things a spouse can do, but indeed there are no guarantees. We have free will, and that includes one’s spouse.

      I remain hopeful, though, even in the face of hopelessness. (By the way, it took us longer than five years, for sure.) However, I also believe in doing the right and good thing, even when it’s difficult and you can’t see the reward. Personally, I want to know that I’ve done everything I could do to honor God and my spouse, no matter what.

      Blessings and may your marriage find renewed joy!

  8. Catherine

    We just celebrated our 21 st wedding anniversary! I tried to leave my husband twice, in the early years, but I had no where to go. Just like you none of the A words were involved, although I did try to interpret some of his behavior as emotional abuse but it really was not, he was just protecting himself. We were both strong Christians when we met. Both of our first spouses had left us to leave Christianity and go back into the world. We each had 3 children. Blending 6 children ages 3-12 was excruciatingly painful. Caused more disagreements than I could ever count and for some years on a daily basis. Yet, he was always a good husband, faithful, great provider and kept God and our marriage his top priorities. We made sure to have a weekly date night and daily talk time. Together we have been through numerous surgeries, a battle with cancer, death of some of our parents, became grandparents, deal with a physical handicap that caused an early retirement. We have adjusted to the empty nest and are now writing children’s books together. I can say now that I am so glad we stuck it out and are going to finish this life journey together happy, strong and madly in love! I try to encourage young marrieds to work through the seasons of life that are stressful, it is worth it. Having a lifetime of memories to share together just adds more blessings to each day.

    1. J Post author

      Thanks so much for your testimony! Indeed, we had years that were not good. But we’re on the other side now, and while we still face challenges, our love is worth every step of the journey.

    2. Jason@SongSix3

      Catherine, your story blesses me tremendously! Isn’t it great how love blossoms and really TAKES HOLD after you and your spouse have walked through some life trials together? That’s definitely how it happened for us. I can’t imagine life without my wife now, even though we’ve walked through some horrendous junk. Those things are what the Lord used to really bring us together. And I too, am glad we stuck it out! I intend to finish this race with the same wife with which I started it.

  9. MissionaryMom

    Not a criticism, but a curious thought: You mentioned that while your marriage was at a place where you thought about leaving, “we experienced good sexual intimacy”. How does that work? When my husband hurts my heart, that’s the LAST thing I want to do with him. (sad chuckle) Perhaps it has something to do with those pesky “A’s” that you didn’t have and we did, but it seems as if it’s been the case since the beginning of our marriage before they were a known issue…

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  11. Nena

    My husband and I just celebrated 27 years of marriage and 18 months ago I thought for sure we would be divorced by now. Unknown to me my husband was an addict when I married him. Even though he got clean and sober 24 years ago we dealt with all the issues from the addiction. When my two children were young I stayed because I did not want him to have unsupervised visits with them and I knew if we were married I could keep them out of the car with him when he was under the influence. He has always been a great provider and loving father just not a great husband. We had happy times but it always felt like the happy times didn’t last long. About 3 years ago a trusted employee/friend stole a lot of money from our business and my husband took the betrayal very hard and went into a deep depression and started drinking. I supported him through it but when he started lying again, which I know is part of the disease, I didn’t think I could keep doing this. I contacted a trusted friend at church and we got together. She made a comment, I cannot even remember what it was except that it had something to do with respect and men. I told her I didn’t even know where to begin respecting my husband at this point but I knew this was something I needed to explore. I went home and goggled respecting your husband and found “The Respect Dare” I ordered it immediately and as soon as I received it I started reading and putting it into practice. It is like the Love Dare from the movie Fireproof but it’s for wives. I cannot tell you the difference it made in my marriage in just a few days and by the end of the 40 days I felt like I was married to a completely different person. I didn’t change him, I changed me and how I look at things and I prayed to God and God changed my husband. He has said things to me that he has never said in 26+ years. Words I have wanted to hear for years. We are closer than we have been since we were married. He signed up for an extensive Men’s Bible Study through our church without me even mentioning it to him and has gone every Monday night for almost a year now. This is a huge deal because he has NEVER been involved in a Men’s Bible Study in his life! I am serious when I say that a very short time ago I would have told you that there wasn’t any hope in having the marriage we have today. I was making arrangements to move out on my own and live by myself. I want to offer hope to those who think things can never change or that you cannot change your spouse. You are correct that you cannot change your spouse but you can change you, get out of God’s way and LET HIM change your spouse’s heart. All I can say is that it is so worth it and Our God is an ALMIGHTY GOD!!

  12. Redeemed wife

    Colleen! My heart hurts for you and your husband. While I don’t believe that the bondage to pornography is an addiction exactly, I do believe it to be a sin of grave consequence! A very wise and godly counselor one told me that marriage is like a sleeping bag. You are camping on top of a freezing mountain and there is only one sleeping bag for the both of you. If only one of you gets in the bag, you will both die because you still need body heat from each other to survive the elements. But there is a catch. Your spouse has brought garbage and filth into the sleeping bag. He has vomited in it. But you both need to survive. So you climb in, never saying that the mess is ok…but saying that your God is bigger than whatever mess is in your “sleeping bag.”
    I pray for you both. Please seek a godly counselor! Harry schaumburg at stone gate resources is a great place to start and has written books to help you!

    1. J Post author

      I don’t actually know Harry Schaumburg. The name is familiar, though. Certainly, there are some great resources out there. Thanks for your encouraging words for Colleen!

  13. Nia H.

    THANK YOU for sharing this writing which gives hope and encouragement to “unhappy/unhealthy/hurting” marriages…I pray for everyone who commented/replied will continually seek GOD for guidance and trust Him thru obedience for a REDEEMED MARRIAGE or a REDEEMED LIFE…GOD IS FAITHFUL TO THOSE WHO ARE OBEDIENT TO HIS WORD/TRUTH, ALWAYS!!! 🙂

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