Hope for Hurting Marriages

September 28, 2011

Far too many marriages in our Churches and communities are barely holding together. In many cases, the pressures and challenges of life have led to patterns of neglect. A marriage cannot be a mutually satisfying relationship without intentional commitment and effort. (Below I will share 5 key commitments for a good marriage and invite you to focus on what love means).

Many husbands and wives do not enjoy the meaningful companionship they long for because they are unwilling to invest the time and effort necessary. Neglect, complacency, assumptions, taking each other for granted, growing negativity and loss of good-will are the termites that eat away at marriage relationships. 

A more troubling reason some marriages don’t survive is a refusal to seek help. Those who find themselves in an extended or an often repeated marital rut usually need the assistance of a wise counselor to successfully navigate toward a healthy marriage. Wives are generally more willing to accept counsel than husbands. The male ego has often held many couples in marital misery.

Don’t be like the fool depicted in the Proverbs. He 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 that are keeping you from meaningful companionship.

Remember, “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 ).
Visualize a triangle with husband and wife at the lower corners and God at the top. The closer you move toward God, 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 twenty-eight 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 we have made some basic commitments that 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.

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:

see also: Troubled Marriages in the Church—How to Respond

Steve Cornell


The test of Love:

Relationships are miserable when love is absent. In Scripture, husbands are commanded to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25); Older women are to train younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4) and communities of Christians are to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:35). But is there an objective way to identify love? 

Love defined:

The fourteen qualities of love listed in First Corinthians thirteen offer the best available description of love. This text remains one of the most quoted Scriptures in wedding ceremonies. Reflect deeply and often on this description of love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).

This is God’s prescription for great relationships. Love (as defined here) is notably anti-rivalry. It protects relationships from destructive conflict. Playful rivalry is not bad. But when a relationship deteriorates, some form of ugly and divisive rivalry is involved.

1) Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It is active restraint that rests in God.

2) Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care and concern for others. Love not only patiently forebears, through kindness, it actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness.

3) Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others. Envious people engage in evil rivalry. The envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the one envied. She delights in evil.

4) Love does not boast: Love corrects the immoderate desire to call attention to one-self. A loving person is not a windbag or braggart. He does not parade himself. Love is willing to work anonymously. It needs no limelight or stage, applause or recognition.

5) Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. A loving person does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment dictates (Romans 12:3).

6) Love is does not dishonor others: It is notrude.It is respectful of others.

7) Love is not self-seeking: It does not insist on its own way. It is not self-absorbed.

8 ) Love is not easily angered: It is not easily agitated nor easily provoked. Loving people are not hot-tempered, short-fused people.

9) Love keeps no record of wrongs: Love seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. When hurt badly, this part of love is hard to practice.

10) Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth:This rules out gossip, slander, and delight in the downfall of others.

And the grand finale: love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. In a staccato of four verbs enriched with repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence, we learn that “there is nothing love cannot face” (NEB). “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT). Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.

Love is “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). “These three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). “Over all virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”(Colossians 3:14).

The personal nature and greatness of love takes on powerful significance when we realize that God is love. His love was put on display when he loved the unlovable—when “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus offered a living example of love. In Jesus, the Creator became a creature; the King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb; the Sinless one was made sin for us; the High Priest became the sacrifice (see: Philippians 2:3-10).

A gift for you:

I recommend regular evaluation of relationships based on the 14 qualities of love in I Corinthians 13. We have put these qualities of love (along with an eight point communication covenant) on laminated cards for easy use. If you email your mailing address to me, we will send you several copies as our gift. [email protected]

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick street
Millersville, PA. 17551

[email protected]

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