Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that well. While there are many great and solid marriages, there are far too many struggling to survive. I couldn’t hope to cover all the reasons for this in a short article, nor am I a professional psychologist or sociologist, however, in my nearly 30 years of ministry I have come to see what is stands out fairly obviously; and that is that building relationships is not as easy as it seems.
It’s not easy because we are all broken people in some way or another. We’ve all felt the shame resulting from some of the things we’ve done. We all lost our cool. We’ve all stepped over the line in one way or another (often in many ways). So when we bring such broken people together, it’s not unimaginable that there will be challenges. There will be bumps; maybe even some nasty collisions. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the end.
If you’ve been in a marriage that seems like a roller coaster, going up and down so many times that you just want to get off the ride; the good news is that your marriage can not only survive, it can thrive. There is hope. Really there is. Would it be easy? No such thing. When it comes to relationships, there are no easy “quick fixes”. Sometimes (often times) a relationship will need the help of an outside professional; someone who can offer insight as to where you are at, how you got there, and how to get back on the right track. Often times the real issues (not the surface ones we complain about) are buried beneath several layers of unpleasant experiences. In those cases, someone skilled is needed. I’d be happy to make some referrals if that would be helpful.
But if your marriage is suffering the “blahs”, nothing really terrible but neither is it as satisfying as it once was, then I’d like to offer you a better way.
Instead of bailing out of a relationship (as far too many are doing); and instead of putting up with a relationship (living under the same roof, but being disconnected from one another), my suggestion is that you build up your relationship.
In the Bible, in the book of Revelation chapter 2, Jesus is talking about a church which had hard working people in it, people who wouldn’t tolerate wickedness, people who have persevered and endured hardships. What does that have to do with marriage? Nothing directly. Over the years, these people drifted away from God. That which was beautiful became tarnished.
In a way, it’s a lot like marriages. A relationship that started off beautiful, focused, full of energy, became tarnished, distracted, even irrelevant. And the reason I pointed to Revelation 2 is because the remedy that Jesus gives to that church could very well be applied to our personal relationships as well.
What did Jesus say? He said to the church in Ephesus: “You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first…”
I would like to suggest, that if you are looking to rebuild a hurting relationship, that you take the same advice that Jesus gave to that church in Ephesus and apply it to your marriage.
1. Remember: Remember the height from which you have fallen.
When it comes to a relationship that has gone wayward, the first thing we need to do is remember where it was we came from.
Think back to your wedding day. Replay it in your mind. Where did you get married? What were you wearing? What was it like? How did you feel when you saw your spouse inside the church (if it was in a church)? Think back to those days! How did you feel about your spouse? What was it about him/her that grabbed your heart? What hopes and dreams did you share? How did you look into his/her eyes?
I remember standing at the front of the church; waiting. We had been dating for a few years and I was anxious to marry my sweetheart. And then there she was; my bride to be, coming up the aisle. She was stunning. I just wanted to take her by the hand, say a couple of "I do's" and get out of there!
We need to start by remembering where we were. Incidentally, that's also what the prodigal son did. After he had squandered all that he had; after his life had become so messed up he couldn’t stand himself any longer, he remembered where he came from. He remembered what life was like.
We would do well to remember. Take time. Replay it.. Think about it. Pull out the albums.
2. Repent: Repent From Your Present Attitudes and Practices
To repent literally means to change or to turn around. If there are problems in your relationship, chances are pretty good that there needs to be some turning around.
Sometimes we think repentance is only for the deep and dark sinner. You might be thinking, “I’ve never filed for divorce” or “I’ve never been sexually unfaithful – I have fulfilled my vows” and we figure everything is good; we are not a fault; our spouse has nothing to complain about.
We need to understand that faithfulness is more than the absence of an affair. Faithfulness is the presence of love, devotion, honor, respect, loyalty and encouragement. To say, “I’ve been faithful because I haven’t committed adultery” is to miss the point. You may not had an affair, but you could be cheating by withholding love or loyalty or respect or any of the other things mentioned. You could be cheating by allowing your marriage to deteriorate.
We need to repent from the attitudes and practices that contribute to isolation. That's what the prodigal son did - he repented (turned around). Repentance is essential in a relationship.
A well-respected author (Gary Thomas) has suggested that people don’t fall out of love, they fall out of repentance.
3. Return: Remember your first love… do the things you did at first.
The simple truth is that if we returned and did the things we did at first, we might end up with the same results that we had early in our marriage.
Did you go for long walks? Did serve breakfast in bed? Did you call one another in the middle of the day? Did you send love letters? Did you try to conserve water by taking a shower together? Did you buy a long-stemmed rose and leave it on her pillow? Did you surprise her with dinner? Did you open the door? Did you show your love by fixing things?
Are you willing to put forth the effort to have the kind of marriage you dream of? If so, you can do something about it. Do the things you did at first.
Don’t do it all in one day. And don’t expect things to turn around in one day. This isn’t a “quick fix”. Most married people are not looking for a one-time show but a long lasting change. A marriage that has drifted apart over the years won’t be healed overnight, but you can still take steps to move from isolation towards oneness again.
In the end, great relationships don't just happen - they need work and they need cooperation. We need to regularly Remember, Repent and Return; and only then will we be restored.
But as I said earlier, this scripture in Revelation isn't about marriage - it's about a different love story - the love that God has for you and I and the relationship that God wants to restore with us. And what this scripture is doing is it's calling the Ephesians, the people who once knew God, the people who once accepted the gospel message and believed - but for whatever reason they got side-tracked; and God is calling them to be restored. He is inviting them to be restored.
The greatest, most important relationship you will ever have is not with your spouse but with your heavenly father. Before we even look at human relationships, we need to get that one in order. It is our relationship with our Heavenly Father that blesses us in our relationships with one another. So I want to encourage you; if you are struggling – remember there is hope. There really is. But we need to first of all get right with our Heavenly Father; and through that experience we can work on getting right in our relationships.
Remember the height from which you have fallen, repent (turn around, change), and do the things you did at first. That’s the only way I know that we can be restored. It worked for the prodigal son. It worked for countless people throughout the ages, and it will work for you.