Does the wedding vow matter?

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today I want to deal with a difficult question: What do you do when your marriage is just rather miserable?

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know so many of you through the comments, and Facebook, and even the occasional email (though I really don’t have time to answer all that come in), but there is a theme emerging. Often I’ll give some advice about how to change the dynamic in a marriage, or how to bring up a difficult topic, or how to feel more intimate. And I’ll get comments that say something like this:

I’ve tried all that and it just doesn’t work!

I get it. And that’s quite understandable.

Many of you are here searching for answers. There’s something really awful in your marriage–maybe he’s gruff and often mean; maybe he has no sex drive; maybe he plays video games all the time. I’m not talking about the big sin issues, like adultery or using porn. I’m talking about the everyday stuff which can totally demoralize us and weigh us down.

You want it to change. You’ve prayed. You’ve tried these strategies. And it’s not working!

But here’s a principle we must all remember:

You can do absolutely everything right, and that does not guarantee that the other person will change.

Even if you respect him and express admiration; even if you pursue a friendship with him; even if you make love with more frequency and passion, it does not guarantee that he will become tender. It does not guarantee that he will change.

That’s why we do the right thing out of obedience to God, not to try to get someone to change.

Why We Do the Right Thing

The reason you do the right thing is because God asks you to do it. Now, it just so happens that when we do change our own attitudes and behaviours, that makes it far more likely that he will in turn change. We’ve upset the dynamic in the relationship, and he is more likely to then change his behaviour in return. This is the usual course of things. But just because it’s the USUAL course of things doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed.

And for those of you who have felt like you have tried everything–you have stopped nagging, you have learned to love unconditionally, you have learned to express admiration–you’re likely exhausted. Why hasn’t he done anything back?

I know that’s a really lonely place. You’re wondering how long you can continue in this marriage. Is it even right for anyone to ask you to keep putting up with this? How can anyone expect you to stay when he is so difficult?

And so I’d like to leave you with some things to ponder:

1. A rough patch does not always stay a rough patch.

Many people give up on marriage too easily.
Case for MarriageIn their awesome book A Case for Marriage, Maggie Waite and Linda Gallagher crunched all the numbers from all the marriage surveys that had ever been done and compiled them all in one place. And one of the most interesting studies they quoted had to do with happiness and divorce.

They surveyed several thousand couples and asked them to rate their marriages on a scale from 1 to 8, with 8 being lousy and 1 being marvelous. Then they took everyone who had rated it a 7 or 8 and followed them for five years.

What they found was that the couples who divorced during those five years were more likely to report personal unhappiness than the couples who had stayed together. So divorce did not make someone happy.

Even more interestingly, 87% of couples who stayed together now rated their marriages as happier than a 7 or 8, and 78% of those couples rated it a 1 or 2.

What that tells me is that if your marriage is in the toilet, it isn’t necessarily time to flush it.

The decision to stick it out and to try often makes things better–even if it takes years. You become less critical of the other person. You decide to care for yourself so that you are strengthened in the relationship. You decide to let some things go and forgive. And your marriage grows because of it.

There’s another dynamic I’ve seen, time and again. Men who often seem to be horrible husbands in the early years of kids, when life is busy and she feels taken for granted, do not stay that way forever. When the kids get to be teens, they become more engaged with the family. When the kids leave home, and home is less chaotic, they start cleaning and doing the grocery shopping. They become better grandfathers than they were fathers.

Have they changed? Most likely. But their wives changed, too. When the kids were little, the wives were often preoccupied and demanding, inadvertently pushing their husbands away. As that dynamic changed, and as he matured, the marriage did, too. But if a frustrated wife broke up that marriage eight years in, she’d hurt her kids and she’d never be able to reap the benefits of both of them maturing together.

Does Your Marriage Need to Change?

9 Thoughts That Can Change Your MarriageI’ve got the answer! An unhappy marriage doesn’t need to stay unhappy.

In 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, I show how your thoughts about marriage can actually be holding you back from marital happiness.

And sometimes those thoughts seem good–“I just need to be nicer and then he’ll be nice to me.”

You see, it’s not about learning to be nice. It’s about learning how to be good. It makes all the difference in the world!

Learn why here.

2. Kids Need You Together

Kids do best with married parents. Many people say, “My kids will be hurt if they grow up in this marriage. They’d be better off not seeing us treat each other like this.” There is some truth to that when the conflict is overt, and when there is always yelling, and definitely if there is abuse.

But it’s not true if there’s just a stony silence, or if the couple just isn’t tender towards each other. Kids do better in marriages with low-level conflict than they do with divorced parents.

As a child of divorced parents, I can’t emphasize this enough. It is so difficult as a kid to live a life always being sent from house to house, and never really having a home base anymore. You become the parent, not the child. That forces you to grow up way too fast, and you’re more likely to engage in destructive behaviour young. Do not do that to your children, please.

3. God is Enough for You

No Husband Can Meet All His Wife's Needs

When  you are lonely, God will still be there. And He has promised that He will always be enough for you; that He will fill you up; that He will never leave you. He loves you. And He created marriage, and He knows how hard it can be. And so if it is difficult, cry out to Him. Lean on Him. Don’t cry out to him to change your husband; cry out to Him to feed you, to fill you, to be enough.

If you are not getting your needs met in your marriage, that’s okay. That’s when it’s time to lean on God and say, “I need to feel loved. I need to feel special.” And ask God to meet those needs. That’s when it’s okay to say, “God, I need some time to myself. I need to rejuvenate. Help me find ways to carve that into my schedule.”

If your marriage is not bringing you peace and happiness, then ask God to help you meet those needs in other ways.

But remember that marriage was NEVER supposed to replace God. He was always supposed to be your primary need. So run to Him.

4. That’s What the Vow Means

Why the Vow Matters: Thoughts on staying together in rough patches in marriage.

Here’s the hardest part of what I’m going to say.

The vow matters.

You vowed “for better or for worse”. You VOWED.

I know the world thinks that if you’re not happy, the marriage isn’t legitimate. That’s why many secular marriage ceremonies are leaving out vows altogether.

But if the vow meant, “we’ll stay married as long as we’re happy”, there would be no need for a vow! The vow is what will hold you together, and God asked you to make that vow. God asked you to commit, because in committing to someone for life, we’re also creating a situation where we need to lean on God. When marriage is hard, you need God more. For marriages to improve, you need to emphasize God more, and yourself less.

And marriage is the rock that keeps communities together, and churches together, and countries together. When marriages break up, everything falls apart.

I know many of you reading this are going through rough times. I know you’re sad and lonely.

But you promised. You chose this man on your own, and you vowed. Perhaps you did it out of desperation, wondering if anyone else would ever love you. Maybe you did it at a vulnerable time in your life, and you feel like it was a mistake.

But even so, you vowed. And vows matter.

At one point you loved this man enough to marry him. Can you find that in your heart again?

None of what I am saying here, though, applies to marriages where there is real abuse or addiction.

What I am saying applies to marriages where both parties genuinely want the marriage to work and genuinely are caring people, but they may have lost their way or fallen out of love. It does not apply in relationships where one party is narcissistic, abusive, or really only wants their own way.

If that is your marriage, then please read this post on why I’m anti-divorce but pro-remarriage, which gives a more complete picture.

5. Have you Truly Surrendered?

One last thing.

I’m glad you’re on this blog, because the principles I share I believe are true. And I believe that usually they will transform a marriage.

But there’s a danger. If you are trying to become more giving, trying to become more loving, trying to become more encouraging simply because you want to change him, it won’t work. You’re still dangling something over his head. You’re still saying, “I haven’t truly committed. I haven’t truly accepted you.”

And the real key to change in marriage is to commit, to accept, and to surrender to God. That doesn’t mean you don’t work on issues; but your attitude must be right.

I know you’re tired and worn out. I know that many of you are lonely and sad and feel like there’s nowhere to turn. But there is. God truly does understand, and He wants to be your rock.

Your marriage may never be the thing that you dreamed it would be. Perhaps you need to let go of that dream and say, “marriage was not supposed to meet all of my needs.” Maybe you need to say, “I am staying because I vowed, and I will love him, but I will need God to get me through, day by day.” And that honestly is okay.

And sometimes the change comes not because we’ve decided to be nicer, but because we’ve decided to act in a godly way, regardless, even if that means drawing boundaries. And that’s when things really start to change.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Link up your own marriage post in the linky below!

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