Marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and woman instituted by God (Genesis 2:24). However, many married couples struggle with unhappiness at times for various reasons. The Bible offers guidance on how to navigate difficulties in marriage with faith, hope, and love.
God designed marriage and takes it seriously
God created marriage and cares deeply about its wellbeing. Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Marriage was part of God’s perfect design from the beginning. Jesus reiterates God’s intent for marital permanence in Matthew 19:4-6, saying, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” God takes the covenant of marriage seriously and intends for it to be permanent.
Sin can negatively impact marriages
When sin entered the world at the fall, it corrupted all human relationships, including marriage (Genesis 3). We now struggle relating to one another and to God flawlessly. Selfishness, miscommunications, unmet expectations, fatigue, boredom, financial stressors, intimacy issues, lack of commitment, infidelity and more can introduce unhappiness. Marriages take work to thrive in a fallen world.
Seek contentment and fulfillment in Christ first
The Bible warns against placing marriage as the ultimate source of happiness and fulfillment. Psalms 62:5 says, “Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.” Jesus similarly teaches in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” If we make an idol out of marriage by expecting it to fully satisfy, we set ourselves up for disappointment. As important as marriage is, we must seek contentment in Christ above all.
Focus on your own contribution to the marriage
When facing marital unrest, it’s easy to focus on what our spouse is or isn’t doing. The Bible challenges us to examine our own hearts and actions first. Matthew 7:3-5 cautions, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Take personal responsibility by asking God to reveal any ways you might be contributing to marital struggles.
Actively nurture your marriage
Don’t wait for the other person to make the first move in improving the relationship. Ephesians 5 tells spouses to nurture marriage through love and sacrifice: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v.25) and “Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (v.33). Nurture intimacy through quality time (Song of Songs), good communication (James 1:19), acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, and more.
Pursue holiness and godly character
Our own spiritual growth impacts marriage. As we become more Christlike by studying Scripture, praying, repenting of sin, and cultivating the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), we introduce more joy and selfless love into the relationship. “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if they refuse to believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1).
Let go of entitlement and unrealistic expectations
The Bible warns against demanding our own way or pressuring a spouse to meet all our needs and desires. Philippians 2:3-4 counsels, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” James 4:2-3 similarly warns, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” Let go of what you feel owed to avoid conflict.
Deal properly with conflict
All marriages experience disagreements, but we can handle them constructively. Ephesians 4:26 advises, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (vv. 26-27). Resolve issues quickly before bitterness takes root. Matthew 18:15 provides a model for conflict resolution: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” Seek understanding rather than “winning” arguments.
Forgive regularly and completely
We all fail one another. Forgiveness is essential for marriage to thrive and reflect God’s grace in our lives. Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 echoes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” God expects us to lavishly and repeatedly forgive.
Allow your spouse to change and grow
People mature over time, often in unpredictable ways. Be open to your spouse changing interests, opinions, habits, even faith convictions. 1 Corinthians 7:14 says, “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife.” Remain patient and flexible versus demanding rigidity. As Christ accepts you, extend grace to your partner’s process of transformation, even if it looks different than your own.
Consider good influences and counseling
If persistent unhappiness lingers even after sincere effort, outside help may be beneficial. Ecclesiastes 4:9 states, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” Seek wise counsel from a pastor, mature couple, or Christian therapist. Read marriage books for guidance. Surround yourself with positive friends who cheer your marriage on. Support and accountability can reinvigorate hope.
Determine if the marriage can be saved
In destructive situations involving unrepentant infidelity, abuse, or repeated threat of divorce, it may be necessary to initiate separation for safety reasons (1 Corinthians 7:15). Otherwise, God calls us to persist in restoring broken places. Hosea illustrates God’s covenant love for wayward Israel, saying “I will betroth you to me forever” (Hosea 2:19). With God’s help, most marriages can be redeemed, even if for a season, by His grace.
Trust God through the challenges
When you’ve done everything possible without seeing change, leave the situation in God’s hands. Psalms 37:5 counsels, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.” Romans 8:28 reassures that, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Let your ultimate hope rest not in marriage itself, but in God’s sovereign plan to conform you to Christ.
Divorce is permitted but not required
The Bible makes provision for divorce in extreme circumstances. Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). However, nowhere does Scripture mandate divorce for believers. God patiently waits for and restores the sinful throughout the Bible. His heart is for reconciliation and redemption.
Remarriage can show God’s redemptive grace
After legitimately divorcing an unrepentant, unfaithful spouse, the innocent party is free to remarry. The Bible reassures, “Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife” (1 Corinthians 7:27). Remarriage can beautifully demonstrate God’s grace after trauma. Christians who remarry after divorce are not “damaged goods,” but able to start fresh by God’s forgiveness.
Singleness can be fulfilling after divorce
While most remarry post-divorce, some discover contentment in singleness. Paul observes in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 that the unmarried are freer to serve God wholeheartedly. Jesus affirms this by saying, “Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it” (Matthew 19:12). Singleness is not “second best” but an honored calling in God’s kingdom.
Keep an eternal perspective
All marriages end eventually in death. Our union as believers with Christ lasts for eternity. The trials of earthly marriage are momentary compared to His steadfast love. Revelation 21:4 promises of heaven, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Hope sustains us until we come face to face with Christ.
In summary, the Bible offers rich wisdom for navigating seasons of marital unrest. With God’s help, couples can foster mutual understanding, care, responsibility, and forgiveness in their covenant bonds. When destructive patterns persist, God makes gracious provision through separation or divorce. Whether remaining married or divorcing, believers have the eternal assurance of Christ’s faithful love. By clinging to Him, we discover peace and purpose despite heartbreaking circumstances.