What do you do when your marriage has failed to make you happy?
In marriage there are moments of unhappiness—the sharp tongue of the moment, the inability to come to a rational conclusion together, the challenge to communicate so many life details as someone rushes off to work.
In marriage there are seasons of unhappiness—the loneliness that can settle in for the stay-at-home parent or the empty-nester, the transitions of life that are like choppy waters rather than a brief sailing excursion, the diagnoses, watching your kids struggle, realizing you don’t much care for sitting next to someone every evening who chews potato chips so loudly.
In marriage there can be, and this is the hardest . . . even a lifetime of unhappiness.
You can wake up and realize that this marriage is not what you thought you signed up for. You wanted to love, honor, and cherish, laugh with, cry with, rejoice with, and struggle with, but something went off along the way and it’s hard to identify where, but more importantly, it’s hard to identify what steps to take to fix it.
This can feel like a tidal wave of realization and how does one naturally respond to a tidal wave?
Our fight, flight, or freeze responses kick in.
We fight. We bring all our stuff to the table kicking and screaming, often making demands, swinging all the resources we can find at our spouse in our very valiant attempt to solve the problems that have stacked up slowly over time. This isn’t a terrible response, but it is hard to focus when we enter fight mode, we just react and it can be overwhelming for both us and our spouse. We wear ourselves and our emotional response mechanisms out, and since the pace of the fight is not maintainable we grow weary of the struggle, take water in our lungs and spiral further down in our attempt to save ourselves and our marriage.
Or we take flight. We get out of dodge. This marriage is too much work, too overwhelming, too grossly disassociated from what we were taught marriage is supposed to look like. It can happen over moments or years, but we slowly pack up our heart to escape from more hurt. At some point we physically leave, hoping happiness will come from somewhere else.
Or we freeze. We enter into what Dr. John Gottman, marriage researcher calls the desert marriage. We simply exist together, but the beating heart of the marriage is gone. This seems to be the God-honoring choice for many of us who are Christians. The word divorce is never spoken, but we pack up our hearts in much the same way as any divorced couple, living in the same space, sharing the same holidays and meals, but really only existing. I’m convinced, while there is honor in this choice, that it is just as destructive and contains its own breeds of sin that can disconnect us from God and one another as the other options.
As cheesy as the metaphor is, we do have a lifeguard running into the water to help us.
We have a savior who sees us floundering in the waters of marriage and this very thing, saving, is His work:
Jesus saves marriages.
This is not a pat answer. It is a simple start.
Opening our Bible, taking a deep breath, and asking the Lord of our life to help us define happiness through His Word is step one. Connecting with Him is where we will begin to find any happiness at all.
The weight of happiness we put on marriage in our culture today is almost unbearable for most marriages. Should we see happiness in our marriages? Yes! But Ecclesiastes 9:9 gives us some hidden insight into what that happiness will look like, and I don’t think it’s the thing we’ve been looking for:
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
Happiness comes from seeing the Lord’s salvation in our lives.
That means happiness will look a lot more like life together in the toil and trial, than like delightful date nights and butterfly kisses.
In your toil . . . enjoy life. That’s a hard pill to swallow. This small blog does not hold the answers to marriage struggle, but I’m praying it gives you a tiny start, a step one, that also can slow down the fight, flight, or freeze gut reaction when we see marriage trouble on our horizon.
Seek Jesus Christ and His salvation for happiness, especially when you identify a gaping void of it in your life. Ask for His help, turn the pages of Scripture and wrestle in His Word. Take a minute, one minute, two minutes, ten minutes, for Him to tend to your soul. When we turn to the wife, the husband, of our youth and don’t find happy, we can know that He is ready to tend, to show us His salvation in all the toil. He is faithful, Jesus saves. That is our simple start.