Hope for hurting marriages


Many marriages in our churches and communities are barely holding together.

Termites eating at marriage

Neglect, complacency, assumptions, taking each other for granted, negativity and loss of good will — these are the termites that eat at marriage relationships.

The pressures and challenges of life often lead to patterns of neglect and complacency.

Essential fact

A marriage cannot be a mutually satisfying relationship without intentional effort (Below I share 5 key commitments in a good marriage).

Many husbands and wives do not enjoy the meaningful companionship because they are unwilling to invest the necessary time and effort. 

Walk with others

A more troubling reason marriages don’t survive is a refusal to seek help.

Those who find themselves in an extended or an often repeated marital decline typically need assistance from a wise counselor to move toward a healthy marriage.

I’ve noticed that wives are generally more willing to accept counsel than husbands. The male ego often holds couples in marital misery.

Don’t be like the fool 

The fool (depicted in the book of Proverbs) was doomed to his foolishness because he refused to accept correction and counsel.

There are many seasoned counselors who can help you understand and work through obstacles to a meaningful companionship.


“Two are better off than one, because they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up…Two people can resist an attack that defeats one person alone. A rope made up of three cords is hard to break” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12).

The “third cord” of a meaningful and lasting marriage is God.

As husbands and wives cultivate their relationship with God individually, they make strong contributions to their marriages. We were made by our creator to live in a personal relationship with him. He has graciously opened the way for this to be possible (see: John 3:16,17; 14:6 ).

Triangle of a good marriage

Visualize a triangle with husband and wife at the lower corners and God at the top. The closer you move toward God individually, the closer you move toward each other.

If your marriage is in trouble and your mate is unwilling to recognize it, you can always seek help for yourself. Ask God to use your marital difficulties to refine your character and strengthen you (see: James 1:2-5).

After more than 33 years of marriage and raising four energetic children, my wife and I have learned many lessons about marriage. The road has not always been smooth, but some basic commitments have helped us.

Although I am not available to counsel every troubled marriage, I am pleased to recommend five basic commitments that have helped us. Take time to go deeper by discussing these commitments with your spouse or with a group of married people.

5 Relationship Commitments:

  1. We are teammates, not  opponents.
  2. We will value and respect each other.
  3. We will acknowledge  selfishness.
  4. We will keep our physical relationship active and  satisfying.
  5. We will stay close to God.
1. We are teammates not opponents:

Marriage is based on togetherness. We must not allow dividing forces to separate us. When you have children, there are three social relationships in your home:

Parent/child, sibling/sibling, and husband/wife. The only permanent relationship in your home is the third one—your marriage. We must prioritize this relationship in a way that encourages our children to value and respect it. Remember: children build much of their identity and security on the strength of their parents’ marriage.

Generally, we live in a society that promotes individualism. Yet in marriage we must look beyond the “me” to the “us.” We must diligently protect ourselves from the dividing forces in our culture.

Marriage and family life go through a variety of phases (e.g. parenting small children, young adolescents, teens, adult children). The potential changes that come with age, income levels, and family circumstances require that we be flexible and make necessary adjustments to protect marital unity. We are on the same team—work together!

  1. What have you allowed to become a dividing force in your marriage?
  2. Are you too busy or too pre-occupied with hobbies or entertainment?
  3. Have you allowed bad attitudes or uncontrolled anger to drive a wedge between yourself and your mate?
  4. Are you too proud, or too selfish to be a good teammate?
  5. Are you too much of a critic and fault finder?
  6. Does your tendency to be argumentative hurt team unity in your marriage?
  7. What changes could you make to bring team unity to your marriage?
  • “Two are better off than one, because they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up…Two people can resist an attack that defeats one person alone. A rope made up of three cords is hard to break” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12).
  • “Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud,… Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16).
  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
  • “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
  • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3).
2. We will value and respect each other

In a pre-marital meeting with the pastor who officiated at our wedding, he looked at me and said, “The graces you used to win her love, you should use to keep her love.” Wow! I have not always done a great job fulfilling that challenge. In courtship, I tried extra hard to treat my future wife with value and respect. Yet over time, it be- came easier to grow complacent and to take each other for granted. As a “typical man”, for example, I do not always listen to my wife as well as I should. I must recognize that lack of listening often communicates disrespect.

Husbands and wives must also work hard to stay in tune to each other’s needs. Encouraging words, well-timed compliments, thoughtful notes, a simple hug—these are little but meaningful ways to show that we value and respect our mates. “I appreciate how hard you work around the home.” “I realize that your job has been stressful, let me know how I can help.” “Thank you for __________.” These are ways we can communicate value.

  1. Can you identify ways that you have not treated your mate with value and respect?
  2. What specific steps do you plan to take to communicate how much you value and respect your mate?
  • “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33)
  • “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (I Peter 3:7).
  • “The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 15:33).
3. We will acknowledge selfishness

Selfishness is enemy number one to a good marriage. A wise counselor once said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, the givers and the takers. A marriage between two givers can be a beautiful thing. Friction is the order of the day, however, for a giver and a taker. But two takers can claw each other to pieces within a period of six weeks. In short, selfishness will devastate a marriage every time.”

I encourage young couples to preface there acknowledgements of wrong with the words, “It was very selfish of me to…” or “I was only thinking about myself when…”.  Many people have allowed selfishness to destroy their marriages.


  1. Do you tend to demand that things go your way in your marriage?
  2. Do you always have to be right when you discuss matters with your mate?
  3. Are you easily threatened by or overly sensitive to criticism from your mate?
  4. Are you generous with your time and resources? Be honest and humble enough to face up to areas where you have been too selfish.
  5. How have you displayed selfishness in your marriage? Have you ever acknowledged selfishness to your mate?
  6. How could you become more intentionally other-centered toward your mate?
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5).
  • “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).
  • “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment (Proverbs 18:1).
4. We will keep our physical relationship active and satisfying

Sex is part of marriage. Most men would like it to be a bigger part of their marriages. Frankly, I believe that attention to the first three commitments will improve your sexual relationship. In other words, sexual problems are often indicators of other problems.  Remember: men and women approach sex differently. Men are like the microwave; women are like the crock-pot.

Because men often have stronger sexual needs than their wives, women tend to have to be more self-giving in this area. Both men and women would benefit from reading material that helps explain their differences. I recommend two books: What Husbands Wish Their Wives Knew About Men by Patrick M. Morley and What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women by James Dobson.  This area of the marriage relationship like all others requires open communication. Marriages with communication problems often have many other problems.

Another major threat to sexual relationships in marriage is pornography. Far too many men are addicted to pornography. Viewing pornography distorts, perverts and places unrealistic pressures on normal sexual relationships in marriages. The primary source of pornography is the Internet. If you have a problem in this area, I recommend that you either terminate your access to the Web or join an accountability group like Covenant Eyes (note: their program could also protect you from allowing pornography to become a problem). We must keep our sexual relationship healthy in our marriages. Do not allow neglect or other issues to ruin sexual intimacy.

  1. Have you given proper attention to your sexual relationship?
  2. How could you improve this area of your marriage?
  3. Have you allowed other relationship problems to negatively affect your physical intimacy?
  • “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (I Corinthians 7:3-5). See: Proverbs 5-7
5. We will stay close to God

Remember: “a rope made up of three cords is hard to break” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The “third cord” of a meaningful and lasting marriage is God.  As husbands and wives cultivate their relationship with God individually, they will make a strong contribution to their marriages. We were made by our creator to live in a personal relationship with him. He has graciously opened the way for this to be possible (see: John 3:16,17).

We strengthen our relationship with God by listening to him as he speaks through the scriptures. This can be done by reading scripture, sitting under bible teaching and reading books that explain and apply scripture. We also cultivate our relation- ship with God by praying to him (i.e. offering up praise, thankfulness and requests to God), and through fellowship with other believers (i.e. being vitally connected to a local Church).

On a practical level, it helps marital unity when husbands and wives put themselves under God’s authority. On many issues, it isn’t my view that matters or my wife’s idea, but God’s opinion. A husband or wife who continually examines his or her life according to God’s standards will become a better mate.

  1. Have you grown spiritual complacent?
  2. What steps do you plan to take to improve your   walk with God?
  • “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).
  • “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Eight point Communication Covenant
  1. We will express irritations and annoyances we have with one another in a loving, specific and positive way rather than holding them in or being negative in general. (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 4:8; Romans 14:13)
  2. We will not exaggerate or attack the other     person during the course of a disagreement.  (Ephesians 4:32; 5:1-2; 1 Peter 3:8-11)
  3. We will attempt to control the emotional level and intensity of arguments. I.e. No yelling, uncontrollable anger, or hurtful remarks. (James 1:19-20; Proverbs 14:29; 15:1; 25:15; 29:11)
  4. We will “never let the sun go down on our anger” or never run away from each other during an argument. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
  5. We will both try hard not to interrupt the other person when he/she is talking. As a result of this commitment, there will be no need to keep reminding the other person of his/her responsibility, especially during an argument. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
  6. We will carefully listen when the other person is talking, rather than spending that time thinking up a defense. (James 1:19; Proverbs 18:13)
  7. We will not toss in past failures of the other person in the course of an argument. (Mark 11:25; Colossians 3:13)
  8. When something is important enough for one person to discuss, it is also important for the other person. (Philippians 2:3-5)

For Church leaders and others:

Responding to troubled marriages in the Church

Steve Cornell


About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Divorce, Divorce and Remarriage, Marriage, Selfishness, Wedding and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Hope for hurting marriages

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  2. Dan Driesenga says:

    Thanks Steve; another title? Hope for healthy Marriages is also apporpriate to stay walking with Jesus Christ and our mate. I plan to use this material with our leadership training course. Also, you have great character building thoughts in this lesson. Thanks again!


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  9. Trudy Clark says:

    Thank you. This is the first ever resource that ministered to me regards a troubled marriage. Thank you and God continue to use you mightily to enlarge marriages.
    Thank you.


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