“But I really did hate him the other night!” a friend recently admitted. “I wasn’t thinking it to be mean. Or even saying it out loud to hurt him. I really, truly felt like I actually hated him! And I wasn’t staying another night!”
We both laughed because we’ve both been there. It’s obviously a serious admission. Nothing to joke about. But it’s one of those things that when you hear someone else say it, you breathe a sigh of relief knowing you’re not alone. It reminds you your marriage isn’t as bad as it seems.
I would say my friend and her husband have a strong marriage. They’ve been together for two decades, have four happy children, and work in ministry. She’d say my husband and I have a strong marriage. We’ve been together for a decade, have two happy children, and work in ministry.
Still, we both confessed that sometimes our thoughts about our marriages can be cavernous. Plus, at times in both of our marriages, those cavernous thoughts of despair have been pretty accurate of the state of our relationships too.
So how do we know in the middle of pure hatred if it’s time to lean into the disgust and throw the house key in his face (for at least one night!)? Or if we need to check our emotions, apply a lens of reason, and reevaluate?
When is marriage as bad as it seems? Consider your marriage still worth the while if:
1. You wish it was better.
Things are hard right now. You’re in a really tough season. Maybe a set of tough years! But you haven’t given up hoping for and wanting things to get better.
Instead of daydreaming about someone new, you’re still reminiscing about the fun and closeness you and your spouse once shared. You wonder if you’ll ever get it back.
You haven’t thrown in the towel yet. Your marriage isn’t as bad as it seems.
You’ve heard the quote: nothing changes if nothing changes. So turn that wishful thinking into action. Schedule an appointment with a counselor. Take a marriage class at your local church. Let your sister keep your kids and go to a weekend marriage intensive.
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Or maybe it is: It does take two to tango. If you’re the only one still fighting for your marriage, seek some serious outside support. The one-sided burden of a two-person marriage is too heavy to carry on your own.
2. You talk things out.
Maybe louder than you used to. Maybe less often than you used to. But you still see the value in bringing your concerns to each other, so your marriage isn’t as bad as it seems.
You’re at least mentioning how she hurt you and broke trust by spending a late night out with coworkers. You’re at least asking him to see your point of view, so you can both understand each other better the next time he forgets to tell you he’ll be late for dinner or goes camping with the guys for another weekend.
Or maybe it is: Fighting all the time is exhausting. If it really has become a daily practice in your home, it’s time to get to the bottom of it. Especially if you find yourself avoiding conversation altogether because the threat of conflict is so high. Long-term silence is scary too. Talk to a counselor who can help you open up communication again in your home.
3. You make time for each other.
Admittedly, it’s not enough. And often, you really don’t want to be together. You’d rather ummm … mindlessly scroll your Instagram feed than face how stuck you are.
After 52 days in the hospital with a 2-year-old and our newborn daughter enduring two open heart surgeries by 3 months old, our life felt wrecked. We were totally done as spouses, as parents, as people! Honestly, tending to our marriage felt like another burden to carry, and we really weren’t interested in that.
One Tuesday night, a friend showed up at our front step to take over dinner, baths, bottles, and bedtimes. And she sent us out with each other. It was her idea. We didn’t want to go. We had nothing to say to each other. I would’ve rather taken a nap!
A lot of times we fought. At best, we stared silently in opposite directions, sipping our coffees. We never had some come to Jesus reconciliation on those nights out. But we went the next time our friend showed up. And the next. The choice to go was a commitment to ourselves and to each other that attributed to our marriage health.
Or maybe it is: One or both of you is unwilling to fit each other in. Work schedules are busy. Parenting demands are high. All true. Except those are easy excuses we tell ourselves to keep avoiding our spouse. If one or both of you isn’t up for finding some time to still invest in your marriage, you need to seek outside help. Talk to your pastor. Get some accountability from a trusted mentor.
4. You still have sex.
Sure it might not be as hot as the honeymoon, but that was 15 years ago in an exotic location with no distractions. Lately you’ve been up with the baby all night, helping your parents move, and watching your sister’s kids so she and her husband can get a weekend away.
Engaging in somewhat regular sexual intimacy keeps you physically and emotionally bonded. Why not up the quota with an agreed upon monthly schedule for connection?
Or maybe it is: God intended sexual fulfillment of every kind to be strictly reserved to the willing marriage bed. If one of you is seeking sexual gratification outside of your relationship, it’s a serious detriment to your marriage covenant. Or if one of you is regularly unwilling to engage in sexual intimacy with each other, it’s time to uncover why. Admit it to a friend. Then seek professional help.
5. You show up to the same places together.
Okay, it’s not romantic. His arm isn’t wrapped around you. The most recent hand you held through the church parking lot is your 3-year-old’s. All six kids might sit between you in your Sunday morning seats. But you’re there as a family.
Those Friday night bleachers might find you talking mostly with the other players’ parents. Still, you’re both chomping concession stand snacks for a shared dinner.
Even if it’s mostly for show—you don’t want to let on how awful your marriage feels right now. It could be for fear of embarrassment—this wasn’t supposed to happen to high school sweethearts. Yet, you out in the world together really does say to your kids, to yourself, to each other that you’re still doing this marriage.
Or maybe it is: You can’t even fake it anymore. You and your spouse live totally separate lives that rarely overlap. There’s no semblance of together anymore, except for sharing a last name. It doesn’t have to be the end. Some serious attention to your marriage and hard work at home through prayer and counseling can get you back on track.
Sometimes the small things in marriage are relentless, which makes them crazy hard. Then our marriages encounter big, outside threats to our oneness … and even our future together. It can make you question or grieve the current state of your marriage.
It’s okay. In fact, it’s good to know marriage isn’t really a “fake it until you make it” kind of gig. Marriage is intense, sacrificial, sanctifying, God-honoring stuff. You’ll likely need outside support in various seasons to be sure you and your spouse make good on your vows.
Admit where you are. Confess the momentary (or prolonged) hatred to a friend. Then move forward in your fight for your marriage.
Copyright © 2019 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Tracy Lane is a writer for FamilyLife. She is the author of numerous articles, coauthor of Passport2Identity, and guest on multiple FamilyLife Today broadcasts. Tracy and her husband Matt have two daughters. Follow her special needs motherhood journey at HeartForAnnie.wordpress.com. Find her on instagram @HeartForAnnie.