Who Are You Praying to Change in Your Marriage?

Blog post title + woman praying with light shining on herI’ve been aiming this year to pray more and encouraging y’all to do the same. Specifically, I’m hoping we can grow into praying more intentionally, more openly, and more fervently for our marriages and marriage beds.

So then I started thinking about how I prayed so often during the worst years of my marriage. In case you haven’t been following me long, let me explain that my husband and I had some bad years of marriage, during which I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. Thankfully, we have moved past those difficult years and are in a season of genuine commitment and happiness that makes every one of those moments worth it.

But the truth is that we really didn’t have to go through all those moments. It took way too long for me to listen to what God wanted to tell me.

Because here’s an example of what my typical prayer looked like during those flailing years:

Dear God, I know that You brought me to my husband and that You believe in marriage. You want us to have a holy, thriving marriage. But we’re in a mess, and I’m so unhappy. I have tried talking to him nicely, then more forcefully, and even pleading with him, but he isn’t listening. Lord, please save my marriage. Help us get back on track. Tell me what I need to say to get through to him. Help him to see what I’m going through and to do what he should be doing to build our marriage. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Sounds good on the surface, right? I start by remembering that God brought us together and that God Himself is the maker of marriage and wants us to thrive. Then I’m open about my struggle and explain where things are for me. I ask for God’s wisdom in talking to my husband and for a change of heart. I even finish with “in Jesus’s name” (see John 14:13-14).

But read between the lines and you’ll see what I’m really asking: God, change him.

Even when I asked for wisdom on what to do, it was really so that I could get my husband to see my side of things. I wasn’t asking for the ability to hear his side or to view him in a better light or even for the desire to meet his needs.

When I look back now, I think: No wonder God didn’t answer that prayer — it was so selfish!

You know when things started changing in my marriage? When I focused on fixing me. When my prayers sounded more like:

  • God, even though I believe he needs to change, start with me. Point out my faults and help me to fix them.
  • Lord, show me how to love my husband with 1 Corinthians 13 love. Guide me into becoming patient, kind, honoring, selfless, and forgiving. 
  • God … just help me.

Many of you have been praying for your marriage, and specifically your sexual intimacy. You have poured out your heart to God and you’ve begged for help. But, given my own experience, I have to ask: Who are you praying to change in your marriage?

If the answer is anyone but myself, then you might need to rethink your approach.

Jesus told this parable in Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Are you “confident of your righteousness” compared to your husband? I certainly was. And frankly, maybe you are far more righteous. To this day, I think I was 70% right about what I was arguing my marriage. But I was a supremely self-righteous wife, which made me a sinner in God’s eyes. One who needed to stop looking at the speck in someone else’s eye and notice the plank in my own! (See Matthew 7:3-5.)

As some have said, “You can be right, or you can be married.” You can’t always be both. And since you gave your vow and have that ring on your finger, I think you already picked married.

Now the question is where do you need to change to make things better in your marriage? To reach harmony in your relationship? To improve not only the sex itself, but the intimacy that sex within marriage should have? How can you make your marriage a safe place for your mate to express their concerns and find support?

Even if they are 80% the problem, how can you stop looking at that 80% and focus on the 20% God really wants you to work on? By the way, you’ll often discover by the end of it all, you’re more than 20% of the problem.

I was a 100% wrong. Not in the relationship necessarily, but I was 100% wrong in believing that he was the one who had to do the changing. When I let my prayers become about God working on me, He started answering. In big ways.

I need to do more of that. Because God’s work in me isn’t finished. I still think I’m right more often than I should, and I’m far from having perfect, Christ-like love for my husband. But God has changed me. Because I asked Him to.

Who are you praying to change in your marriage?

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).

16 thoughts on “Who Are You Praying to Change in Your Marriage?

  1. Nancy

    I’ve gone through most of those prayer examples. I have asked for forgiveness for the faults that I have that I usually admit to. After almost 17 years together, I am just trying to be thankful for what I do have and that God will give me acceptance in how things are, because, after many Christian marriage retreats, DVDs and some counseling, I believe it won’t improve. My husband is a good honest man but his priorities will be his patients and the church. It makes me sad because I really believe we could be better. As the years keep going by, I have to just focus on how he is such a good provider and that at least the marriage retreats taught him that he needs to be coming to me in the bedroom at least on occasion. Yes, I have the higher drive. Happy Easter everyone.

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  2. Claudia

    YES, yes, a thousand times yes. We can’t hear this message too much. Sometimes when my husband and I are in our most intense arguments (we are polar opposites on personality tests, so conflict happens often) I realize that my dependence on God is deepened. Not that He wants us to fight all the time, but I am slowly learning that even if I am “right”, I must go to God with humility rather than, or at least after, listing my frustrations about my husband. Then and only then can I hope for change in our marriage. This is so important! Thank you for sharing truth.

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  3. Eric Wiggin

    When I met my wife (1961) I’d been through a broken engagement two years earlier. I came from a strong Christian family, with godly parents and grandparents and grandparents, and I went into both relationships with some firm bottom lines. My previous fiancee had made two decisions the summer of our breakup that I simply could not live with. For one, we’d both pledged ourselves to finish Bible college and become missionaries. She’d quit college. For another, I believed in a broad-based Christian fellowship within evangelical Christianity (“keeping the unity of the Spirit”). She’d taken up with a narrow group, which, although solidly evangelical, felt that they were the exclusive “bride of Christ,” and no fellowship was permitted outside their group.

    Both of us agreed, though, that marriage was a lifetime commitment, and what we got was what we get. No divorce, though counseling to change was permitted (she and I had one counseling session BEFORE we “agreed to disagree.”)

    With my wife, we did have one serious disagreement before we married, which we resolved with her father’s help–and prayer.

    Sadly, it took me more than a few years after we were married to realize that dear wife’s stubborn habits were between her and the Lord and her. (She’s a “Love me, love my dog type, and I’m a perfectionist). “PRAYER CHANGES THINGS” was a motto on my grandmother’s bedroom wall. While I still pray for her to change, it’s taken more than a bit of humility for me to realize that “It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of [MUCH!] prayer.” Leadership, for example, is something that I have trouble with. So the Lord gave me jobs that required me to get up at five AM to fix the coffee to teach me that leading as a man means to be the first one up (usually) to get things ready for her!

    So . . . pray–for yourself, if change is needed. “Tribulation worketh patience, and a lot more, as well.

    Eric Wiggin

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    1. E

      How funny that for you, getting up and getting the coffee is how God gets you to show leadership and preparation, but for me, getting up first and fixing breakfast is how God gets me to start my day sacrificially serving my husband! Same chore,completely different lesson (but an equally important and good way to set your heart in order for the day!). God is so good!

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      1. Eric Wiggin

        To E: It’s not the act, per se, E. There was an 11-year stretch in our marriage, right after our youngest child finished high school, that my wife took a job that required her to be at work at 3:00 AM–she ran the kitchen for breakfast and lunch in a large nursing home! The Lord knew that she didn’t NEED the incentive to get out of bed, but I needed to lead. Getting up early has always been hard for me, so it’s currently my way to show that I love her . . . and to get some chores done.

        BTW–I met my wife in college. I had an early morning job driving a school bus to pay tuition, and she worked in the college kitchen for the same reason. So my first memory of her was as she dished out scrambled eggs for me and several other student bus drivers (all over 21, since they didn’t hire kids).

        Eric

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  4. Forgiven Cheater

    I love that you mentioned that you didn’t have to go through those moments in order to hear God. Same thing with our marriage – we didn’t have to go through the valley of the shadow of death…but we did. Hopefully our stories can prevent others from going down that path.

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  5. Eric Wiggin

    Claudia said, “we are polar opposites on personality tests, so conflict happens often.”

    Eric says: Dear wife and I are opposites, too. She’s extremely gregarious and outgoing. In the years when I was a pastor, and later taught an adult SS class (attendance larger than my former church congregation!), she was the party gal who managed our social affairs. I’m an introvert, borderline Aspergers–I’d rather be home or working than at a party.

    Worse, I’m male; she’s female. So aside from the personality thing mentioned by Claudia, women and men are simply wired differently. God made us thus–to complement and complete each other. The best illustration I can think of is a radio and a phonograph (record player, for you techies born after 1965) The phonograph can’t understand why the radio goes on and on and on, with a variety of programs, 24/7. Radio can’t make up its silly female mind, the phonograph thinks. But the poor phonograph has just one record and a changer. So it plays the same song over and over, ad infinitum. Ms. Radio gets disgusted with Mr. Phono’s one-track mind!

    HAPPY EASTER!
    Eric

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  6. Jack

    Thank you, J for writing this.
    I remember how humbled and broken I felt when God showed me my own self-righteousness. It was tough having to face that. But it made a profound impact on me to this day. Now, anytime I think I’m the right one I’m quickly reminded of how blind I can be. And to me, that’s something I can be thankful for.
    I agree with what you have said. Our prayers should be more of a humble look in the mirror as we ask God to help us become who He needs us to be.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thanks so much, Jack! It is an eye-opener, isn’t it? And I’m coming to believe that humility is a key virtue from which many others flow.

      Reply
  7. Eric Wiggin

    “God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23).

    While I mentioned in a previous post that I need to pray for my own shortcomings and sins, and I do pray aloud for the Lord’s blessing on my wife as we pray together, it’s important, too, that, as Samuel said, we should pray for the shortcomings and sins of our spouses. But make these prayers silent prayers in our private devotions.

    And on the theme of praying for spouses, has it occurred to wives to pray for their husband’s deliverance from the idolatry of viewing pictures of nude women on the Internet? While there’s been a lot of discussion on this blog re lust, much it involving Matthew 5:27-28, this passage, in context (vss. 29-34) is re coveting (GK epipthmeo) a woman you wish to marry to replace a wife. The real issue of so-called “porn addiction,” IMHO, is idol worship. The Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4) re carved or graven images can hardly be more clear; and the Old Testament replete with examples of God’s people worshiping images of nude goddesses. Or, take the art of the 19th century–Bouguereau’s famous nude “Birth of Venus” is the representation of a Greek/Roman goddess. Christian men today who continually access such art, or naturist web sites where the camera is turned on naked pretty girls on the beach (most are not pornographic in the ordinary sense), are going beyond the appreciation of beauty, and their attention has morphed into idolatry. Please note that I said “continually,” not occasionally. I don’t suggest that to visit an art museum such as the Louvre is idolatry.

    So wives, if that’s what your husband is habitually up to, he’s not so much committing adultery against you–he’s committing adultery against God. Rather than scold him,or even trying to reason with him, pray fervently for him, but don’t tell him you’re praying unless he asks.
    Eric

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  8. B

    I’ll admit I have probably been praying for all of the wrong things.
    First, I have a hard time – a very hard time – praying for myself. It just feels so self-centered, egotistical, and wrong. I know that line of thinking is wrong. I’m supposed to pray about everything. Maybe it’s even a weird form of that negative pride I struggle with. But me praying for me is the hardest thing there is.
    Secondly, because I’m the higher drive wife in my relationship, I prayed for a very long time for God to take my sex drive away. I wanted to be what I considered “normal” – a woman who didn’t like sex nearly as much as her husband, and a woman whose husband wanted her far more than she wanted him.
    I guess that line of thinking was wrong as well. God has yet to answer that prayer. I know that God knows best, so I suppose He has a reason for things being the way they are.
    Things have been improving slightly. I’m trying not to be as hard on myself or on my husband.
    My biggest problem with praying about this stuff is…I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to be asking for, or what the “right” words are. And so I really liked this part of your post.
    “God….just help me.”
    He knows what I need. He knows what about me needs to change. I can pray that simple prayer and trust that God knows best.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Yeah, I doubt God’s going to answer the “take my sex drive away” prayer. He probably wants to work in that situation in another way. Not that I speak for God, but based on what I’ve seen from others…

      And yeah, “God…just help me” is one of my favorite prayers. Because oftentimes, I just don’t know what to ask. But He knows. Blessings!

      Reply
    2. E

      Hi B,

      I’m so glad that things are improving for you (even slightly)!

      I know what you mean about prayer for self feeling, well ‘selfish’, but one thing that I’ve found is that it’s not so much about asking God to change me, but asking Him to reveal His will for my life, asking Him to help me make decisions, and praying in the morning that He will help me be the hands and feet of Jesus for someone that day… These prayers are not selfish, because they are about me submitting to His will, not God giving me what I want. I have found that when I pray these types of prayers, my heart is changed because I spend a lot more time looking for the right things, with an attitude of servitude.

      I also pray ‘open handed prayers’ where I make a conscious effort to ‘let go, and let God…’ The physical act of opening my hands and raising them up while I tell God all my worries, leaving them in His hands, actually makes me walk lighter, somehow. I am such a worrier, so this is a challenge for me, but it really is helping keep my yoke easy and the burden light!

      Reply
  9. Alicia

    Thanks for writing this, J. I thank God every day that it’s a lesson one of the pastors at church taught on before I actually got married, because I guarantee you I’d have fallen into this trap almost immediately. Sometimes it’s still a struggle not to pray for God to change him, to make him see my side of things, etc. Some days I have to very consciously make the choice to pray for God to show me where and how to change, to help me hear my husband’s heart and mind, to help me remember that it’s more important for me to be supportive than it is for me to be right. This post was a very good reminder/refresher for that, and I appreciate it. Have you ever heard the song “The Marriage Prayer” by John Waller? Sometimes, on those days when I’m tempted to pray like your first example, I listen to that, and use its lyrics as a guide for how to pray for my husband and my marriage.

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  10. Nick

    All great points and very similar to your Psalm 18 reflection entry…which is something that really hit home. But when you’ve (meaning me) been in counseling for years together with your wife and honestly been praying for God to work in my own heart…and he has…showing you the ways in which you have contributed to negative patterns and behaviors in your marriage..:but your spouse has done little to change…what then? Are we never to ask the Lord to work on molding and shaping them? Softening their hearts?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Yes, I think that’s good. But oftentimes our prayers are really about ourselves, and we need to question our motives to make sure our hearts reflect Christ’s. Chris of The Forgiven Wife had some great insight with her recent post, Let’s Pray for Our Husbands (which certainly applies to praying for your wife as well).

      Reply

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