Weathering Change in Marriage
by Shelly Esser
How many times have you heard the scenario of one spouse feeling called to be a missionary, but the other not hearing the same call? Or what do you do when one spouse wants to leave his secular job to become a pastor and the last thing his wife is interested in is becoming a pastor’s wife?
Or how about the husband who desires to start a ministry in the inner city, but the wife isn’t comfortable living in a place like that? Or what’s to be decided when one spouse wants to leave a ministry for another?
These types of changes can rip through a marriage with tornado-like force. Left unresolved they can literally tear a couple apart. While there is no one blueprint that can be applied to every situation, because God has a unique plan for each marriage, there are some general principles that can help in weathering through these types of changes.
Seek To Discern God’s Will Together
Job 34:4 says, “Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good.” It can sound terribly spiritual for one spouse to say, “God is leading me,” – and He may be; however, in marriage discerning God’s will is a mutual matter.
It’s true that God often begins the leading process with one spouse first and that leading can influence the other one, but eventually God will operate in both spouses’ lives to do His will, if they are genuinely seeking it. That “will” may not necessarily mean that a couple will take on a particular change together, but they can be unified in the decision.
Often conflicts and resentments arise when one spouse feels left out of the decision-making process. Couples need to operate as partners so they can begin to discover God’s plan together.
Philippians 2:2-4 says, “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.”
I can find no better passage for Christian marriage partnership in a decision-making process that has the potential to divide than this passage. If we’re not careful, we can give the enemy a foothold in our marriages by bulldozing ahead with a major change without sensitivity to the spouse God has given us.
What should a couple do if both spouses are seeking God’s will on a matter, but they still feel pulled in opposite directions? They should move slowly, never pushing the other one into something. They say the Atlantic convoys of World War II used to move forward at the speed of the slowest ship. When there isn’t a true sense of God’s direction, it is better to wait.
When I have faced a difficult change in my marriage, it has meant a willingness to give up my plans so I can be open to accepting God’s will for our lives – whatever the outcome. When it comes down to it, it’s not about what a husband or wife wants, it’s about what God wants and that is the end that needs to be pursued.
You Married A Person, Not A Dream
One of the reasons a change in marriage can be so difficult is that it’s often tied to a dream. And when a spouse seemingly upsets that dream, we can feel like, “this isn’t the person I married.” Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Notice that the verse says, “united to his wife,” not “united to his dream.” It’s a person we have married, and while there is nothing wrong with having dreams, we need to hold on to them loosely.
I heard a pastor’s wife bitterly say, “I married a social worker, not a pastor!” No she didn’t. She married a man – a man who is daily being changed into the image of Christ and who is on a journey that may or may not lead her where she desires him to go. The struggling spouse needs to be careful that he or she doesn’t quench the Holy Spirit in the other one’s life. As hard as it may be to accept, there needs to come a point where the struggling spouse is able to say, “While I don’t understand any of this and it’s not the course we started out on, it could be God’s leading.” That’s the first step in being open to change.
Grieve Over Your Broken Dreams
Sooner or later in every relationship a dream dies. By giving yourself permission to grieve over that loss, you can get to the place of acceptance, of seeing God’s working in your marriage again. By bringing the God who never changes into your losses, you can begin to embrace the new things He is doing.
Sometimes, however, we get stuck in our grief for so long that it blinds us to what God wants to do in our marriage. Saint John of the Cross summed it up well when talking about the Israelites, “The children of Israel did not find in the manna all the sweetness and strength they might have found in it; not because the manna did not contain them, but because they longed for other meat.” To always be “longing for other meat” keeps us from embracing the good God has for us through the changes today.
Change in marriage can be challenging, even scary. But it doesn’t have to rip your relationship apart. Instead, it can become God’s vehicle for redesigning your marriage according to His good and perfect will. From the moment you cease wanting things to be your own way and accept unconditionally whatever changes God sends into your marriage, you will be free to receive His best.