When children are small, and we want them to do something that they find challenging, they often say, “but it is too hard.”  The frequently used parental response is, “anything worth anything requires hard work.” That adult perspective may or may not change the child’s perspective.  However, it is interesting that adults often fail to apply “anything worth anything requires hard work” to their marriage.

As we get older, we realize that many of the issues in our marriage that we at one time thought were extremely important, were not.   Several decades later, we can more clearly see how insignificant they actually were. We wonder why we spent so much time and energy on those things, and allowed them to cause stress and needless problems in marriage.

But the other side of that reality is this:  many things that didn’t seem important enough to invest time and energy into resolving, actually were.  As a counselor and therapist, I frequently see current big problems that began with minor issues earlier in the relationship.  With the passage of time, they have grown and festered into major conflicts within the marriage. I also see relationships in trouble because of earlier decisions that placed excessive time and energy into a skewed value system, to the neglect of that which was truly important.

In any relationship, there will be things that seem to trigger irritation, frustration, hurt feelings, or anger.  Unspoken expectations can create tension. At the time, we may say nothing but feel much, or we may overreact with our words and actions.  We may fail to realize that this destructive pattern needs to be identified and addressed. If we don’t do this, the pattern will repeat itself over and over again.   Left unchecked, these irritations, hurts, and expressions of anger will usually strengthen with time.

It is normal to have certain expectations of behavior from your spouse.  But we must remember that a healthy relationship is much more than certain rules of behavior. When a spouse is engaging in a behavior that is concerning to you, there are constructive and destructive ways to communicate your concern. Learning how to talk with each other without defensiveness or anger escalation is very important.

God designed marriage to be a deeply unifying and intimate gift. It is a picture of Christ and the church.  Sadly, religion and spirituality can also cause problems in a marriage instead of unifying it. Religious extremes cause problems not only in society, but also in in marriages. Ideally a shared, common belief system should be in place before marriage.  If that is not the case, it is never too late to start centering a marriage relationship around God’s purposes and priorities for our lives. However, it can save a lot of heartache and conflict to build a solid faith foundation before marriage. Then, in marriage, the agreed upon and settled foundation can be built upon.

In marriage, allow each other to be human, especially when thinking about the emotional feelings of your spouse. If we want our mate to accept our emotional expressions, then we must be willing to reciprocate the same to them.  Even when we think our own responses emotionally are the right ones, and theirs are not, we need to be careful about coming across with self-righteousness or judgmentalism. If we condemn our spouses’ emotional needs rather than mercifully trying to understand what the underlying issues really are, great damage can be done to the marriage.

We don’t have to separate disappointment and joy, we can experience both.  Christians are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

It is not easy to do, but we need to respect each other’s viewpoint, even if we don’t see it exactly the same way.  We need to be willing to compromise and work things through. There will be some things that you have to agree to disagree on, and that is OK.  A person who has to have everyone line up with their viewpoints is usually an insecure person.

In communication and in action, each person needs to feel like they are respected and appreciated.  Failure to do so often leads to resentment and anger.

If there is something that seems to provoke your spouse and it causes them to lose it, you need to think about changing your approach.  Failure to do so can cause psychological and emotional damage to your spouse. Failure to do so is also ignoring an important spiritual truth.  If we say that we want to follow Biblical truth, then we must recognize that we are called to live in an understanding way with our spouse, or our prayers will be hindered.

Even though you cannot change the other person, you can create an environment for change by how you handle things and how you relate to the other person.  We can’t give what we don’t have. We may need to work into our own life self-acceptance, kindness, and compassion.

There is hope for marriages in trouble.  It is God’s heart to bring restoration and hope to troubled relationships.   Having a good marriage is worth the hard work that is required to build trust, security, love, and fulfillment.