God wants us to be happy, right?
I hear it often in my work with couples. Two people on the brink of divorce, not because of abuse or infidelity, but because the relationship no longer makes them happy. As they describe, the excitement, curiosity, and fun they experienced at the beginning of their relationship are no longer there. Wedding vows may say, ‘till death us do part,’ but for many those words have lost their meaning.
The reality is that culture has changed and the beliefs we carry about marriage often mirror those changes. Truth today is seen as relative, feelings fuel our experience, and a consumer-driven mindset fosters more transactional attitudes toward relationships.
Instead of understanding God’s true purpose for marriage, we routinely view marriage based on what another person can do for us, what they can give us, and ultimately, how they make us feel about ourselves.
Bottom line: If happiness is your primary expectation of marriage, you will most likely find yourself disillusioned and disappointed.
Why Did God Design Marriage?
We must understand God’s design for us as individuals if we are to understand His design for marriage. While many Believers have a superficial notion of God as a ‘genie-in-the-bottle’ whose primary function is to make us happy, the Bible is clear that His design for His children is to make us holy (ie: sanctified, conformed to His image,) not happy. 1 Pet 1:15-16
A.W. Tozer describes, “No man should desire to be happy who is not at the same time holy. He should spend his efforts in seeking to know and do the will of God, leaving to Christ the matter of how happy he should be.”
Tim Keller, pastor, author, and theologian, defines marriage as, “…a lifelong, monogamous relationship between and man and a woman. According to the Bible, God devised marriage to reflect the saving love for us in Christ, to refine our character, to create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and to accomplish all this by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole life union.”
Henri Nouwen states, “… marriage is foremost a vocation. Two people are called together to fulfill a mission that God has given them. Marriage is a spiritual reality. That is to say, a man and a woman come together for life, not just because they experience deep love for each other, but because they believe that God loves each of them with an infinite love and has called them to each other to be living witnesses of that love. To love is to embody God’s infinite love in a faithful communion with another human being.
Marriage is one of our greatest teachers because at its heart marriage surfaces the reality of who we are, what we expect, and how we engage others. No other relationship is as revealing and potentially transformative as the relationship with the one we have committed to permanently and intimately share our lives.
In a HuffPost article, author and speaker, Tyler Ward, concludes that marriage is about personal reformation. He describes, Although happiness is often a very real byproduct of a healthy relationship, marriage is designed to pull dysfunction to the surface of our lives, set it on fire and help us grow. The job of marriage is to refine our dysfunction and spur us into progressive wholeness.
Bottom line: The less you view your spouse as your savior and more as your companion on this journey of life, the more likely you are to pursue your own healing and growth. This will lead to cultivating more realistic expectations for your marriage, ultimately yielding greater stability, peace, and yes, happiness.
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What Does the Bible Say about an Unhappy Marriage?
It is important to distinguish between an unhappy marriage and a toxic/destructive marriage. For those who have experienced any kind of unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical/emotional/verbal/sexual abuse, this article is NOT for you. In most unhappy marriages the issues are miscommunication, finances, unmet expectations, etc. Abuse of any kind is not acceptable in God’s design for mutual submission as couples grow together in Him.
Regarding marriage, Malachi 2: 15-16 (NIV) says, Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. ‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
Biblically speaking, spouses don’t have the right to simply dissolve an unhappy marriage. God intended that marriage be for a lifetime.
Ephesians 5 describes marriage as a metaphor for our relationship with God. He is not capricious in His affections toward us, nor does His love depend on favorable circumstances. His relationship with us is solely based on His covenant with us. God wants us to remain faithful to our vows because He knows broken hearts, broken marriages, and broken homes can be redeemed for His ultimate glory.
Does this mean that God wants us to remain in an unhappy marriage? No. What He wants is for each of us to use our pain, our sorrow and disappointment, our loneliness and anger, as an invitation to pursue His healing. He wants us to understand what health looks like in our marriage—healthy expectations, communication, boundaries, and conflict resolution— so that we can experience transformation right where we are, rather than waiting to discover it in a new relationship.
Bottom line: An unhappy marriage should be an indicator that there are things God wants to address in our lives and in our marriages, so that we can pursue healing and wholeness in every area of our lives. God wants us to recognize issues within our marriage as they arise, be willing to address them, and work together towards personal and relational growth. If we do, we will continue growing together allowing us to develop greater connection, strength, and intimacy in our marriage.
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8 Signs That Your Marriage Is Unhappy
1. Are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling increasingly present in your marriage?
2. Do you often feel you have little to say to each other?
3. Do you fantasize about a future without your partner?
4. Do you and your spouse live separate lives?
5. Is there a lack of sex or physical affection in your marriage?
6. Do you often feel disconnected from your mate?
7. Is it easier to focus on everything else but the relationship?
8. Do you talk to your friends more than your spouse?
If you answered yes to one or more of these, chances are high that you are living in an unhappy marriage.
Does God Want You to Stay in an Unhappy Marriage?
Let me be clear, God does not want anyone to stay in an environment where they are not safe —physically or emotionally. Period. Yet too many couples who feel dissatisfied or unhappy in their marriages often miss the blessing God has for them and their children by leaving too quickly or not getting the help they need to adequately resolve their issues.
6 Ways You Can Begin to Reclaim Your Marriage
1. Stop blaming your spouse for your unhappiness. No one is responsible for your happiness but you. If you find yourself experiencing a lack of joy, personal fulfillment, or satisfaction in your marriage, do a personal inventory to assess the greatest areas of dissatisfaction as well as the causes for the dissatisfaction.
2. Pray. Ask God to reveal the areas of your heart that need His healing. Ask Him to show you the things for which you own responsibility. Ask Him to make clear the ways in which He wants you to grow, the things He desires you to learn to become more like Him.
3. Find specific ways you can pursue the healing to which God is calling you. Reach out to a trusted Christian therapist in your area that can help you heal areas of brokenness, cultivate new patterns, new skills, new ways of being that can transform both you and your marriage.
4. Stop looking at your mate as the villain in your life. Begin to see them as your friend. View them as honest, yet broken. Offer compassion to them on their healing journey. Pray for them. Make a list of qualities or behaviors you admire in them.Focus on these. Remind yourself of these attributes throughout the day.
5. Find ways to affirm your spouse. Instead of verbalizing criticism or contempt for what they don’t do, let them know what they do get right. Speak to them your appreciation. Find ways you can bless them —freely, without expectation.
6. Pray over your spouse and your marriage daily. Pray for protection from the enemy. Pray for each of you on your respective journeys. Pray for safety, vulnerability, and skills to work through the issues that are sure to arise in your marriage. Pray for wisdom and humility to reach out for counseling to help you heal and grow together.
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Verses about the Joy of Marriage
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
As a young man marries a young woman, so shall your Builder marry you, and as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.
Prayer for a Happy Marriage
Dear Abba Father,
I long to know your healing in every area of my heart and in my marriage. Father, let my unhappiness point me to You, Your healing, Your purpose for my life. Show me areas of brokenness from my past that need to be healed so that I can walk in wholeness and freedom. Show me the expectations that You want me to have for my spouse and my marriage. Help me to learn better ways of communicating and of resolving conflict with my spouse. Reveal to me the ways I have failed my marriage and teach me how to both ask for forgiveness and offer it freely so that I can learn to love my partner well. Rekindle respect, trust, admiration, and love for my spouse and draw us together into a deeper connection and intimacy with You. Help me always keep my expectation on You so that I can glorify you in my heart and in marriage. Amen.
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Lisa Murray is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a Jesus girl, and a recovering perfectionist. Her passion is to encourage and empower individuals—whether in their hearts, their marriages, or their faith—to cultivate healing and wholeness that will awaken a heart of peace. Her book, Peace For A Lifetime, is available on Amazon. She writes weekly at LisaMurrayOnline.com. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.