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.
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:
- 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.
- 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?