Love is a commitment, not a feeling.
I remember the phone call like it was yesterday even though it took place several years ago. I was out on a hike with Ashley (which is one of our favorite past times) and my phone started buzzing in my pocket. I pulled it out to see the name of a good friend whom I hadn’t seen in awhile. I normally don’t interrupt our hikes with phone calls, but it was so rare for this friend to call I thought I should answer and make sure he was okay. Ashley nodded her approval, and I took the call.
After the initial pleasantries that take place when you haven’t spoken to someone in a long time, my friend bluntly confessed the reason for the call. With a slight quiver in his voice he said, “Well, I think I’m getting a divorce. My wife has said that she wants some space and asked me to move out temporarily…maybe permanently. I’m not sure what to do.”
I wasn’t completely surprised by his confession. In my time around this couple, I’d noticed a negative trend in their relationship over the years that had caused them to drift further and further apart. Instead of launching straight into marriage advice, I did what I normally do in these kinds of conversations. I started asking a lot of questions…
Do you want this marriage to work?
What do you think are the main reasons you two have drifted apart?
What would you be willing to do to make this marriage work?
What was the happiest point of your relationship?
What were you doing at that happiest point that you’re not doing now?
What are the things that are in your power to do to improve your relationship?
Does your wife know that you love her, respect her and have eyes only for her?
Does your wife know you’d gladly choose her all over again if given the chance?
My friend answered each question and seemed to surprise himself with some of his responses. As he talked, I noticed a pattern. I’m sure he noticed it too. As he recounted the decade-long history of his marriage, there was a pattern of him being passive in the relationship. He was on autopilot. Sure, there were things his wife could have been doing differently too, but this wasn’t about her. This conversation was about him and what was in his power to do. He was the only part of his marriage which he had the power to change.
He seemed ready to declare defeat and walk away from his home and his marriage. He also seemed willing to make the effort to turn things around if there was a chance the marriage could be saved. After an extended conversation where he had confessed years of shortcomings, frustrations and mistakes, he asked me what he should do next.
I took a deep breath, asked God for wisdom in a quick, silent prayer, and then told my friend this:
“If this marriage is going to end, let it only end after you’ve done absolutely everything in your power to save it. Right now, you can’t say you’ve given everything. You’ve admitted to giving more to your career and even your hobbies than you’ve given to your marriage. Your wife has never seen what it looks like for you to put her first. She’s never seen you truly fight for her.
If this marriage is going to end, let it only end after you’ve done absolutely everything in your power to save it.
If you want a chance for this marriage to work, start with a sincere apology. Confess to all the ways you’ve let her down and tell her you want the chance to put her first like you should have been doing all along. Tell her you’re not willing to move out because when something is broken, you don’t sever it as a way to heal it. Cutting off a broken arm won’t heal a broken arm. You need to hold it closer than ever while it is wounded and vulnerable so it can heal properly.
Reassure her that you’ll give her whatever space she needs but also be firm that you’re not leaving the home because you can’t fight for her and work on the marriage from somewhere else. It can’t be done remotely. If she wants you to sleep on the couch, then sleep on the couch, but don’t leave your home. If she chooses to leave, that’s her decision and you can’t stop her. Even if she chooses to leave, keep pursuing her in whatever ways she will allow.
If she stays at home, then work from day one to make your home the safest place on earth for her. Protect her. Fight for her. Prioritize her. Pray for her. Serve her needs. Be honest with her. Do all the things you should have been doing all along.
You’ll also need help. You need to talk to a Christian counselor or one of our mediators at www.xomarriage.com/help to help you both determine an action plan towards healing and intimacy. This appointment should have been made a long time ago, but you can’t change the past; you can only change the future. Start today and give it all you’ve got.
Remember that Jesus died for you when you had no way to repay Him. He forgave you when you were at your best. He gave His best to you when you were at your worst, and He challenges you to love your bride with the same kind of love He’s shown you. That will take giving everything you’ve got and leaning on His strength to work through you, because your own strength won’t be enough.
Keep going even on the days when you’re not feeling like it. Love is a commitment, not a feeling. Follow your commitments and your feelings will probably catch up eventually. In the meantime, don’t trust your feelings. Trust your faith in God and trust the vow you made to your wife. Fight for her but never against her. Remember that you’re on the same team so this outcome won’t have a winner and a loser. You and your wife will either win together or lose together so give it everything you’ve got to make sure you both win.”
My friend agreed and said he would fight for his marriage. I prayed with him on the phone and told him to call me back when he had an update. The following week, he called and told me that he had done everything I challenged him to do and while they still had a long way to go, they both felt like they were finally headed in the right direction (and the same direction). It has been several years since that phone call and while my friend would readily admit that there’s still work to be done and there are certainly still difficult days, he and his wife have seen the hope and healing that can take place when both spouses commit to giving the marriage 100%.
If your marriage is experiencing a dry season or perhaps even a crisis where you feel like things are over, please don’t lose hope. In my experience, some of the happiest and healthiest couples I know went through a difficult time where they almost gave up, but they decided to fight for the marriage and not give up. Their perseverance led them through the difficult, to greater strength and intimacy on the other side.
It ultimately takes two people to save a marriage, but you have more power than you realize to start the healing process. Do the things I challenged my friend to do. Fight for your spouse. Fight for your marriage. Your actions might provide the spark your spouse needs to be inspired to join you. Even if you feel like you’re fighting alone, remember that Jesus is with you in this struggle. We also have incredible marriage Mediators on our team who could provide encouragement, guidance, prayer and support throughout the journey ahead. You can learn more about their services at www.xomarriage.com/help.
Your actions might provide the spark your spouse needs to be inspired to join you. Even if you feel like you’re fighting alone, remember that Jesus is with you in this struggle.
For additional tools to help you build a rock-solid marriage, check out The Naked Marriage podcast which is streaming free of charge on iTunes, YouTube, Spotify and Google. You can also check out our full library of marriage-building articles, videos, resources and live events available at www.xomarriage.com.