Less than five years after we’d said our vows, my husband and I both felt ready to give up. Arguments, withdrawal, mutual isolation, and distrust characterized our once fun and romantic relationship. We entered into conversations guarded, often focused more on how we could win a disagreement or prove a point, than how to love one another well. One day, in the middle of an argument, my husband made it clear he’d had enough. “I don’t love you anymore,” he said. His words, delivered with no emotion, as if he were merely stating a fact, left me stunned, then physically ill.
Less than a week later, I followed him into a divorce lawyer’s office, longing for the love that drew us together but feeling powerless to knock down the walls we’d created between us.
I felt certain our marriage was over. Praise God, He had other plans and he sparked a desire to fight within both of our hearts then gave us the strength and perseverance for the long battle ahead. As we followed His lead, bit by bit and year by year, He not only repaired the rubble we’d created, but He formed an exponentially stronger bond between us than we could’ve imagined. God can do the same for you. If your marriage is filled with more pain and hostility than joy and peace, know this: God can heal, repair, and restore what’s been broken.
Here are 5 necessary steps to healing a broken marriage.
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1. Guard and nourish your heart.
Past hurts and arguments can negatively impact our perceptions of one another and our interactions. Unless we diligently guard against this, we enter each conversation with scar tissue and assumptions. We can begin to expect and see the worst in one another. We can easily develop a distrusting, cynical, self-protecting view. This in turn hinders our ability to heal and experience emotional intimacy.
Perhaps this is why, in part, Scripture tells us to guard our hearts above all else (Proverbs 4:23). Obviously, God wants to actively cleanse us of selfishness, pride, and sin. But He wants to do more than that. The ancient Hebrew word for heart involves more than one’s emotions. It includes our conscious selves—our thoughts, intellects, and wills as well. God wants to remove absolutely everything within us that gets in the way of the “beyond expectation” life Christ promised, one characterized by love, peace, and joy in every area, our marriages included.
One afternoon, when my husband and I first began fighting for one another, God revealed a diseased area within me that was actively killing my marriage. My heart had become so polluted toward my husband that I predominantly saw his faults. I knew I needed to change, and I needed God’s help. I made this my ongoing prayer focus, asking Him to soften my heart toward my husband and my husband’s toward me. And God was faithful. He helped us see one another in a truer light—one that included our challenging and good traits—and always with equal parts truth and grace. Love needs both to thrive.
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2. Deal with your gunk.
Early in my marriage, I was convinced my husband didn’t love me or want to spend time with me. Much of my pain actually had little to do with him, and I’m sure he could’ve said the same. We both entered our relationship bearing thick scar tissue that distorted every interaction and caused us to see rejection that didn’t exist. I’d also developed defensive behaviors and ineffective ways of dealing with people and emotions.
In order to take me deeper in my marriage, God first had to go deep within me. As I grew closer to Him and aligned my life and heart with His truth, He replaced sinful tendencies with inclinations more reflective of Him. The greatest transformation occurred when He taught me to pause whenever intense emotions arose. Many times, He showed me these stemmed less from the current situation and more from past hurts long since ignored and fears those hurts created. God helped me to prayerfully evaluate then address the root of every gut reaction.
I believe He wants to initiate this type of deep healing within us all. Initially, this process might prick our pride and insecurities. The inherent vulnerability this Christ-led action triggers might make us feel weak, but whenever we prioritize our emotional and spiritual growth, we’re actually setting ourselves up for strength. We can become self-controlled, Spirit-empowered people who let wisdom rather than our reactions drive us. The type of individuals able to experience joy and peace that’s not dependent on our circumstances or how others, our spouses included, behave. This can help heal our marriage in a couple of ways. First, our loving responses help reduce the tension in the home, thereby decreasing our stress. Second, our spouse might even find our developing freedom enticing. Their desire to experience the same confidence and inner tranquility might draw them to Christ, the source of all that is good, right, and pure; the One who is actively restoring all things.
This was the beautiful fruit God brought about in my marriage. At first, obedience felt super hard. There were numerous nights when my husband came home from work irritable and defensive—likely prepared for a dance we’d both engaged in for far too long. Only God stirred me to step away from the conflict to seek His guidance and the strength to follow. My husband noticed the difference almost immediately and was drawn to the new Jennifer God was creating. What’s more, once I got out of God’s way, I allowed Him to focus on whatever behaviors all our mutual ugliness had distracted us from.
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3. Develop conflict resolution skills.
Few of us have learned how to resolve conflict in a healthy and loving manner. In fact, most of us have probably been well-schooled in the opposite direction. Maybe we grew up watching our parents manipulate or bully one another, withholding affection or yelling to get what they wanted. Or perhaps our home environment taught us to suppress our emotions and pretend that all was well while enduring incredible dysfunction. We’ve probably even seen these destructive practices work, at least in the short term. Maybe we’ve employed them ourselves and gained a few success stories as well. The problem is, each of these isolating behaviors create cracks in our relationships that widen over time, resulting in shattered, self-protecting, and lonely hearts.
To experience the depth of love we crave, we need to stop further damage from occurring while working to repair the fractures standing between us. In short, we’ll need to learn to use kind, gentle, truth-filled words that are helpful and build one another up (1 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 4:29). Words that intentionally point one another and our marriage to Christ and all He desires for us. This can take time as we first become alert to our harmful reactions then, with God’s help, create new, more loving and self-controlled habits. I say “habits” intentionally because that is what many of us have often fallen into—habitual behaviors that lead to the same painful dead ends. But God wants to guide us onto a more peace-filled path.
For us, this involved going to counseling, attending marriage conferences and Bible studies, and spending considerable time in prayer. We didn’t always get this right. For years, in fact, we seemed to be fighting the same battles in the same unhealthy ways. But over time, united in our efforts and dependent on God, our arguments slowly but steadily began to change. Now, some 20 years later, we’re able to discuss incredibly difficult and emotional topics calmly, with gentleness and love.
Related Resource: Listen to our new, FREE podcast on marriage: Team Us. The best marriages have a teamwork mentality. Find practical, realistic ideas for strengthening your marriage. Listen to an episode here, and then head over to LifeAudio.com to check out all of our episodes:
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4. Speak words of affirmation.
I once heard intimacy described as the progressive unveiling of one’s self with diminished fear. This means, in order to truly feel close to someone, we must trust that our heart is safe with them. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever hurt us. No relationship could thrive with such a requirement. But rather, it means we believe the other person truly loves us and will stay beside us.
Defense mechanisms usually indicate that some part of us believes the opposite and feels we must protect ourselves from rejection or abandonment. This is why affirming our love and commitment to the relationship can have such a powerful effect. This reminds us of where our true fight lies—for, rather than against, one another.
For example, say your husband routinely fails to honor his commitments. This not only challenges your trust, but also makes you feel unvalued. You know, to have a strong marriage, you must deal with this behavior and the relational damage it causes. If you immediately challenge his actions, he might see your confrontation as rejection and react in anger. But what if you began the conversation by stating, “I love you and really want you and I to be close. I want our marriage to be strong, which is why I want to talk to you about something that hurts me.” Such assurances help create a safe environment where honesty and transparency thrive.
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5. Get help.
I often joke that my husband and I keep counselors on speed dial. We seek out plumbers when our pipes break, roofers when our house springs a leak, and financial advisors to manage our 401K. So why wouldn’t we also seek out trained and experienced relationship experts as well? While my husband and I have learned a great deal over our 20-plus years together, we have nowhere near the education and experience gained by mental health professionals. In seeking their aid, we’re simply stating that we want to learn from the best. During particularly confusing times, we’ve also found it helpful to talk to someone who is unbiased and emotionally removed from the situation. The counselor helps us better verbalize our emotions, listen to one another, and process whatever issues we’re facing in the healthiest and wisest manner.
Counseling saved our marriage, when we’d fought ourselves into a mess we hadn’t a clue how to undo. Counseling strengthened our marriage when I became sick and everything felt disrupted, including many of the ways we’d related to one another for years. Counseling unified our marriage when decisions left us confused and uncertain. With each session, counseling deepened and purified our love as we unveiled our truest selves, bit by bit, and learned to see one another as we truly are.
Marriages can be a source of great joy and peace, but they can also lead to deep pain. We all enter into this sacred union with high hopes—often well-developed fantasies life’s realities shatter. We might find ourselves in a trench we don’t know how to climb out of and aren’t even sure we have the courage and strength to try. But God sees us, our pain, and even more importantly, the joy ahead, if we’d but follow His lead. As we seek Him above all, He’ll purify, heal, and protect our hearts; train us to speak truth in love, to hold tight to one another and our marriage, and He’ll give us the courage to seek professional help when necessary. While the journey may be hard, we can trust that the God who is restoring the world, through Christ, has the power to restore our marriages as well.
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Originally published Friday, 23 April 2021.