Thoughts of marital discord filled my every waking moment. There were times I was so distraught that I spent hours walking back and forth through the house mumbling to myself. I'm sure my sons believed I was losing my mind. Sometimes I would have agreed with them.
My normally kind and gentle husband was sullen and snapped at the slightest provocation. He never hit me or threatened me, but he seemed to take everything I said the wrong way. After 20 years of marriage, I hardly recognized the man I had married.
While it is not an experience I would care to repeat, I did learn a few things as Michael and I struggled to put our marriage back on the right track.
1. Hang in there.
It is so easy when you are under tension day after day to just give up. I almost did. The constant bickering, the hurt feelings, the unfair accusations . . . they all add up until we feel that surely it would be better to just quit and start over.
Our culture has made it all too easy to do that. With the advent of no-fault divorce, marriages can end almost as quickly as they began. Then, according to the world, everyone just picks up the pieces and moves on. No problem.
I don't buy it. As early as Genesis 2:24, while Adam and Eve still inhabited the Garden of Eden, God ordained marriage by saying, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." How do you divide one flesh and not leave lives ripped apart? You can't.
If we will just hang in there, just keep holding on for one more day, things can change. God can and does change hearts. So as long as you are not in danger, be patient. Psalm 27:14 reminds us to "wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."
2. Seek counseling.
Dragging me to counseling was like trying to put a cat into a box. I resisted it with everything in me. To my way of thinking, it was the ultimate admission of failure. If we couldn't work out our problems on our own, what kind of marriage did we have?
I was wrong. When we finally sought professional Christian counseling, things began to change; for the worse! Or so it seemed at first. Counseling opened old wounds and exposed tender flesh. Things we had said to each other and things we hadn't said to each other were aired in front of a stranger. It was just plain hard.
Only through God's strength did we persevere through two years of therapy. Slowly we began to see glimmers of light. Little by little our marriage was restored. If we had given up on counseling after the first few sessions, I don't believe we would still be married today.
3. Make a list.
After another angry morning, I found myself once again pacing back and forth through the house. I tried to think of just one reason I shouldn't divorce my husband. Finally I calmed myself long enough to sit down and write a list: not of reasons to stay in the marriage, though that might have been helpful, but of qualities I loved about Michael, the reasons I had married him in the first place. From his charming dimples to his strong morals, I listed everything I could think of. It was several days before I was able to evoke enough semblance of love to share my list with him, but he grudgingly acknowledged my effort.
In times of distress I took the list out and reread it, hanging onto the words like a lifeline. It helped me put things into perspective.
Prayer is the most important action we can take to save our marriages, yet how many times do we misuse that wonderful gift? While my husband and I struggled with our problems, I prayed, all right. I prayed that God would change Michael's attitude, his demeanor, his behavior, anything and everything about him that I thought was wrong.
Before long, however, I began to pray, "Lord, make me part of the solution, not part of the problem." While I continued to pray that God would renew Michael's love for me and heal our marriage, I also prayed that He would show me the things I needed to change to make our marriage stronger.
5. Let go of bitterness.
Once you get past that rough spot in your marriage, it is easy to be trapped by the anger that was ignited in the heat of battle. Holding onto the bitterness will not only continue to impair your marriage: it will harm you. As a wise teacher once told a friend, "Bitterness does more damage to the vessel that holds it than to the object onto which it is poured."
If Satan could not destroy your marriage the first time around, he will keep trying and at least make you as miserable as possible. Don't let him. Refuse to replay those scenes in your head.
Biblical marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, but no one said it would be an easy covenant to keep. After 30 years of marriage, I can testify to that. But then, nothing worthwhile is easy.
Teresa Cook is a freelance writer living in Mississippi. She and her husband, Michael, are not only hanging onto their marriage but happily anticipating many more years together and praising God for seeing them through.