How to Heal a Troubled Marriage

The Bible says much about how a man is to treat his wife, and vice versa. "Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them" (Col. 3:19). This verse speaks reams of food for thought and practice, when it comes to a husband’s responsibility in meeting his wife’s deepest, most enduring needs. It would seem that God has placed within the woman’s psyche a limitless desire to be loved, to be nourished and cherished, "even as the Lord the church" (Eph. 5:29). Yes, the relationship between Christ and His church is what the marriage covenant pictures. Further, to the wife, Paul states: "and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Eph. 5:33). What does it mean for a wife to reverence that man? How can a man truly love that woman? How can a wife’s obedience to a simple command, and a husband’s obedience to a simple command, bring a healing balm to a troubled marriage?

by Jerry Gentry

"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them" (Col 3:18-19).

It is a common falsehood among Christian husbands who sometimes promote the idea that wives are lesser beings, since they are commanded to "submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). Is the wife just his doormat, for wiping his shoes? Is she little more than his workhorse, who irons his shirts, cooks his meals, cleans his house and bears his children? Obviously, no Christian man really wants that kind of a wife, though men often reduce their wives to second class citizen status, by the way they thoughtlessly treat these delicate creatures. What is she to do about it? Must the wife rebel, or is there "a more excellent way" (1Cor. 12:31), for a Godly wife to love a thoughtless husband?

Wife, when did you last show your husband genuine reverence? Would you know how to reverence that man? Why would such reverence be important to your marriage? Do you honestly know any wife in this world, who reverences her own husband with respect and submission "as unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:22)? The high calling for every wife is clear: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:40). Wife, the way you reverence your own husband mirrors precisely your real relationship and submission to Jesus Christ. It is myth to think you can submit to, even respect and reverence, Jesus Christ, while you disrespect your husband. You know that to be true, if you will think about it.

Rare is the woman who gives her husband the level of reverence she thinks she would give to Christ, though many wives give much effort to that end. But my husband? That man, who leaves his dirty clothes all over the house? That man, who burps rudely at the dinner table; that man, who selfishly ignores my need to talk in favor of reading the newspaper; that man, who regularly forgets to take out the trash, until I remind him? Reverence that man? Christ is nothing like that man, you say, and rightly so. Christ is not like your husband, agreed. But that is not the main issue for you. The question for you is simply this: Are you like Christ? Stated again, are you treating that man like Christ commands you to treat him, even though he is sometimes such a thoughtless dolt? The way you treat that man, regardless of his faults and weaknesses, is a measure of your own obedience to Jesus Christ. Right? If you doubt that fact, then you need to go back through Bible 101, and learn again the first rudiments concerning the marriage covenant. Will you live by faith, which is to obey God even when it makes no rational sense?

Really, reverence him? That’s right, wife. Reverence that very man, strange as that may sound to you now, after all you have been through. Read the words in your own Bible. You are commanded to do something toward him, which is not conditional upon what he does in return. Do you believe that? Will you do that? You are commanded to look up to him, even when he leaves his dirty socks where they came off his feet, even when he forgets to say "thank you," after you’ve fixed his favorite meal, even when he spends more time petting the family collie than in listening to you. But that’s not fair, you object!

Fair? What is fair? Is obedience fair? The command to you, wife, is to "see that she reverence her husband," and do so joyfully, with a good spirit. Will you agree with that Scripture? Your reverence for that man is not conditional on his performance of his duties to you, any more than the command that husbands "love your wives, and be not bitter against them," is conditional on your respect for him. Now you want him to love you, right? Then see that you reverence him, and wait on God to prompt change in him. What if he does not change immediately? Keep on obeying God and reverencing him. There is one thing for certain. Any wife, or husband, who takes up the words of God and determines to live by those specific words, even stand alone in obedience to God when necessary, even in the face of ridicule and rejection, is a person who gains God’s respect.

"But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isa. 66:2). Christian wife, will you tremble at His word? You must humble yourself, otherwise you will excuse your disobedience through your own pride and self justification.

Wife, take a step back in time, for a moment. Did you once fall in love with that man? Were you once so crazy in love with him that you would do anything to be with him, even marry him? Your marriage was an unconditional lifetime commitment, not a limited contract. The only way it will work now is when you individually take up the words of God and make the decision to live by those words. Who will go first? What if the husband will not go first? Is he in the right? No, he is in the wrong. What can you as a wife do about that? Most wives right there make the wrong choice. Will you nag and criticize? Will you draw inward and remove your "heart" from that man? Will you separate from him, even divorce him? There are very few grounds for separation or divorce in the Bible. Even toward the unbelieving husband, who is pleased to dwell with the believing wife, the wife is given a formula for exercising her highest feminine powers in winning him to Christ:

"Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;

"While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear" (1Pe 3:1-2). Do not allow such language to reduce your thoughts back to the "doormat" mentality. Paul says just the opposite. He tells you, the wife, to use your "chaste conversation," your pure gift of gab, your "sweet talk," by whatever name, to win him to Christ. Does that sound like a "doormat?" No. Would you win your husband to Christ? Then don’t be a nag. Don’t criticize him. "Sweet talk" him through your "chaste conversation" to becoming like Christ, and reap the rewards of having a different kind of husband, one you will like much better than the one you now have. That is the Bible formula. Are you willing to use it?

Yes, you married that man, and oh how sorry you have been, on many occasions, since then! You then thought he was a Christian, but how could he also be such a weakling, and so uncouth at times? How could he be so thoughtless, so inconsiderate, so downright crude? Answer: because he has not yet become perfect, like Christ, in his own obedience to the commands God has given him.

In a word, he has not yet disciplined himself in all the ways he must, to love his wife, and be not bitter against her. You see, it would appear that God has given two people of opposite gender in marriage two different sets of needs, and two different sets of weaknesses. The wife needs love, whereas her husband needs reverence. His first love may well turn to bitterness, in the face of her criticism and nagging, expressed as her reverence slides away. A husband’s bitterness expresses itself in many subtle ways, but most often through lack of communication, except for blow ups. He feels your lack of respect, absence of reverence, that you have removed your "heart" from the relationship. It has cut him to the core, hurt him deeply. He has tried to tell you about it. But you got mad, justified yourself, cried and gave him the cold shoulder. He later bought you flowers, and you both made up, superficially. So what does he do now? He remains silent, to your unspoken needs, so as not to provoke your anger and feel the chill of your cold shoulder. It is simply too painful. He wants to avoid going through that agony again. In the process of guarding against further hurt, he holds you at some distance.

Every husband must learn to endure with patience every disrespect his wife shows him. When she cheers others, but nit picks at you, then you must still love her. When she sleeps in and doesn’t make your breakfast, except when company comes, you must still love her. When she reminds you that she noticed what you failed to do, that you said you would do, you must still love her. Often without even knowing it, without even thinking, she shows you disrespect, more in her attitude than just in her words. And often you show her bitterness, in failure to talk problems out patiently and kindly. Why does she say such things, you think? But you dare no longer ask. The thought of her likely response is too painful.

A girl is attracted to a man who sweeps her off her feet, gives her goose bumps, makes her feel like a queen. Such is the basis of worldly romance. Even with all her gift of speech and their mental acuity, a wife is easily deceived. It all goes back to the first sin in the garden of Eden. It was this very sin that Eve first committed, of letting the Serpent sweep her off her feet and deceive her. Wives have been deceived, as a general weakness, ever since. Wife, do you believe that? It is in your Bible. If you think otherwise, then is it because you too are deceived?

The apostle Paul confirms this basic weakness in wives, when he admonishes: "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (1Tim. 2:14). Many women are sharper mentally than their husbands. Many women have superior verbal skills than their husbands. Many women are quicker at thinking than their husbands. Yet even with their sharp mentality, their superior communication skills and quickness of thought, they can still fall into the oldest sin known to the woman, the sin of being deceived. When a woman overrules, neglects or rejects her husband’s words, then she is living in deception. The devil has her heart, as sure as he had the heart of Eve. Mark it down. It is in your Bible.

Two people of different gender in one marriage make for both exhilarating fellowship and awful heartache, when each fails to understand and practice the unconditional requirements of the marriage covenant. By way of review, what are those most fundamental requirements, once again?

Wife, you must "submit to," and "reverence" your husband. Husband, you must "love," and "be not bitter against" your wife. Plain and simple in command, but more difficult in practice.

Husband, how is your bitterness expressed in real life? It is expressed in anything and everything that is outside of "love." What are some examples? When your wife fails to compliment you and build your ego, she strikes at your most basic need. Yet, you are to love her anyway, and show her kindness. When she fails to thank you for the many things you have done to support her, you are to love her anyway, and continue to provide for her. When she befriends those who have abused your generosity, even takes the other side with sympathetic understanding against you, you must be understanding and gentle toward her. Hard as that is, it is your unconditional marriage covenant responsibility.

When she takes you for granted, will you do what makes her feel special, anyway? Even when she is deceived into withholding her heart from you, and giving her heart wrongly to a friend or a close family member, or even another lover, you are to intercede for her with God, for mercy, not judgment. The Psalmist speaks of such sacrificial love: "Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice" (Ps. 50:5). When will husbands begin to show such sacrificial love for their wives, even as Christ did on the cross, when he interceded for us all and said: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Husbands, when you enter into such a covenant of sacrifice, with God, then you will have no will of our own in marriage. You will seek God’s will only, and your wife will feel it, because God is duty bound to give her such grace, as the third member of every Godly marriage covenant. But instead, you have turned bitter, and criticized her for the disrespect you felt. You have thrown mud back at that woman, and you are wrong. You have treated marriage as 50/50, and justified your lack of motivation to show her sacrificial love, because you have been hurt over and over. You have not yielded "your bodies a living sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1), ready and willing to go to the cross, for that woman. Husband, you have missed the point. Marriage is not 50/50.

Marriage is 100% only, and husband, only when you give yourself 100% in obedience to the unconditional, sacrificial "love" and "be not bitter against" concept, will you please God. What if your wife does not change immediately? That is not your responsibility, but God’s. Perhaps you should do a thorough housecleaning to rid sin from your life. Keep on loving her, sacrificially. If you get your act together, in obedience, God can shake her up, even put hooks in her jaws, and bring her into obedience, in His good time. Sin is the main reason for troubled marriages, and you can "be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23). It is certain that "there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known" (Luke 12:2). Deal with what God places on your heart, and wait on Him to change her. And what if He does not? Then you have the comfort of knowing that you have met your unconditional basic marriage responsibilities anyway. You have pleased God, even when it made no rational sense.

Wife, what if your husband is unwilling to go first? What will you do? If you are a Christian wife in subjection, then you will meet the unconditional marriage responsibilities which God has given you alone. You will submit to your husband, even use your "chaste conversation," your "sweet talk," to win him to Christ. And out of your genuine respect and reverence to God, you will begin to reverence that man too.

Marriage is a tough row to hoe. Who will disagree? But the rewards bring the highest level of fellowship in all the earth. So, wife, next time you feel like a doormat, realize that maybe you have partly put yourself there, in your failure to reverence that man and meet his most fundamental need to be held up on a pedestal, his need to feel important. Will you nag? Criticize? If so, he will withdraw his heart, and give you the silent treatment. Or worse, he will yell and put you in your place. Will you then remove your heart from the marriage bed? Then he will feel the rejection, and where will he turn to meet his most fundamental need of all, that being, to feel important, to feel like his life makes a difference to someone. Will he find another woman? Many men do, in rebellion against God. And husband, when you fail to give sacrificial, unconditional "love. . . [and] be not bitter against" her, when you neglect to meet her deepest, most fundamental needs, when you ride roughshod over her heart, where will she turn? To another man? Many wives to just that, in rebellion against God.

The bottom line is this. We each have individual responsibilities in marriage. Why do we wait on the other, before we are willing to step out in obedience, and wait on God to work change in the other mate? That is the issue, in all troubled marriages. Wife, that is the issue with you. Will you shed the "doormat" deception, and rise above that carnal justification, which is little more than a poor excuse for not winning your barbarian husband to Christ, through your "chaste conversation?" Perhaps you need to bridle your tongue, and bring it into subjection to God’s word. "And if they [wives] will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home" (1Cor. 14:35). How long has it been since you asked your husband to explain something to you from the Bible? Wife, it is one thing you alone have sole power over, independent of your husband, in your marriage. You need not ask his permission. You need not plead, beg, or otherwise show him any obeisance, when you make the choice to win him over through your "chaste conversation," and to reverence that man with the personal, unconditional, sacrificial love of Jesus Christ in you.

Husband, will you "love" sacrificially, or show "bitterness?" Which will it be for you? When that woman turns up her words of criticism, will you tune her out, or will you turn on your sacrificial "love" for her? Most of us tune that woman out. Yet, we must admit that our unconditional marriage responsibility is to "love," even "cherish," our wives. It is much easier to justify our faults and fall back on the "bitterness" of blame, neglect and self justification, that it is to follow that "more excellent way" of sacrificial love. What will you do, if your wife refuses your best efforts at dealing with marital conflicts? Will you give up? Will you become callous, embittered, unfeeling, in the face of her nagging and criticism? If so, then you have completed the necessary cycle, which will lead to total estrangement and divorce. You know God hates divorce, and neither of you want that. What must you do? You must find a way to show that woman that you love her, unconditionally, sacrificially. You must walk by faith in God, the third member of the marriage covenant, to give to her needed changes too.

You’ve both had troubles for years. You have both cried your eyes out off and on. You have tried just about everything you know, short of divorce, and failed. Want to try something new? OK, then try God’s simple word, his plan for meeting the most fundamental needs of your mate. Change your approach, that is, if you value your marriage enough. Do you want to save your marriage? No one but you is keeping you from taking the first step. Wife, show him some genuine respect. Reverence that man, as a last resort, and see what blessings God will bring your way. Husband, show that woman some genuine, sacrificial love, that is if you still do really do care about her. When you do that, she will know it, and God will be there working on her heart.

How must we heal a troubled marriage? It will be healed when we pour in some balm, and begin to meet the unconditional fundamental needs of our mate. How? Husband, love your wife, unconditionally, sacrificially. Let her know you really care for her. Wife, reverence your husband, even when he does not deserve to be reverenced. Let him know you really look up to him, if you do. And if not, then your heart is not right with God. Reverence that man even when you don’t feel like it. God is not a quitter, and you are not obeying God if you give up. As Jesus said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible" (Mark 10:27). Wife, you must keep on reverencing that man, that undeserving dolt, anyway, even when he fails to "love" you as he should. In doing so, you bring God positively into the equation, on your behalf. Husband, in the face of your wife’s worst criticism, you must keep on loving that woman, unconditionally, sacrificially, anyway. In doing so, you bring God positively into the equation, on your behalf. And when God works, a troubled marriage is healed, in miraculous ways. That is how to heal a troubled marriage.

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