One of the biggest myths I used to hear as a marriage counselor was that all problems in marriage are 50-50.
People would tell me this quite often. They would say, “I know it takes two to tango,” or, “I know I have my fair share of blame in this.”
And while this is sometimes true, there are many cases where it is completely one spouse’s actions and attitudes that are shipwrecking the relationship.
Now, before you say “amen” to this, that doesn’t dissolve us of personal responsibility and Christ-centered love within the marriage. What it does do, is clear the fog a little.
It is very confusing when we assume personal responsibility for the negative actions of our spouse. It leaves us in a state of guilt without any means of action. When we start blaming ourselves for our spouse’s behavior, we allow ourselves to be manipulated into believing we are wrong when we are not.
This is not empathy, it is deceit.
Once we have established that our spouse is responsible for their actions and speech, we can start to clean up our side of the street. That is to say, we can start to take back ownership of our lives in a way that can begin to do the tough things Christ calls us to do.
Until we can sift through this confusion on the front end, we will not have the strength or wisdom to travel the path set before us. That is why the first step is to seek the truth regarding your marital situation.
Once truth has been established, then we can move into personal responsibility.
Personal responsibility seems a little insensitive when we are married to a difficult spouse who repeatedly has hurt us. We tend to shrink back at the notion that we need to be the responsible party. After all, it is they who have hurt us. However, Jesus loves us too much to allow our lives to be lived in constant reactivity to others. There is too much at stake.
When we live in reactive mode toward a difficult spouse’s sin, it robs us of many things. It robs us of hope because we are waiting for them to change before we emotionally heal. It robs us of peace because we are either passively or actively stewing in anger and resentment.
It robs us of the ability to love because we are still waiting on a heart-felt apology before we act as a loving influence in their life. Perhaps most of all, it robs us of joy because we are not getting what we want—our spouse to change.
These are the spiritual elements we have to guard against so we can take ownership of our well-being.
Although it is difficult, it is not impossible.
In fact, when we seek the truth and set good boundaries, we free ourselves from the toxicity of a negative spouse. When we are set free from this reactive toxicity, we can move into a much better space emotionally.
At this point, we can begin to develop a grace-filled love for that difficult spouse that goes beyond natural instincts. It is rooted in the loving grace of Christ.
There is tremendous power in God’s grace. It is the greatest force that exists. It gives us power over our circumstances.
As the apostle Paul stated in prison, “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
I am confident Paul did not enjoy being hungry and in need. I am also confident, if you are in a marriage depleted of emotional needs, you are not thrilled about it either.
However, you have power—the same power that brought about Paul’s unconditional contentment.
God will give you grace to sustain you. He will supply all of your needs in Christ Jesus.
If you need to forgive, He will give you the power to let go. If you need to speak truth and set boundaries, He will empower you to draw a line in the sand. If you need a brother or sister to walk alongside you, He will provide just the right person. If you are just exhausted from the struggle, He will renew you so you might persevere.
Whatever form of grace you need from God, He will give it to you abundantly.
Unconditional joy comes from Christ alone. It is a joy that no one can take away from you.
Nathan Thompson is the Marriage and Family Ministry associate at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus.