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Marriage problems are really only symptoms

marriage problems are only symptoms

Our marriage “problems” are only symptoms of the actual problem in our relationships with Christ. In my own marriage, for instance, the “problem” looked like I did not have enough time for my wife and children, but that was only a symptom. The problem was that I would not obey the Holy Spirit’s conviction to put my family ahead of the church, make my wife a priority, spend more time with my children, etc. Plus, I was being consumed with anxiety, versus trusting Christ like I should have. In other words, the marriage problems I was experiencing were directly connected to my relationship with Christ.

A couple’s marriage problems can only be fixed by focusing on their relationships with the Lord

This is why any biblical marriage counseling must address the husband and wife’s relationship with Christ. Couples I counsel are often confused when they share marriage problems they are experiencing and I respond by asking:

  • “What does your time in God’s Word look like?”
  • “How is your prayer life?”
  • “Tell me about your involvement in the church?”

A wife will say, “I just told you my husband yells at me. Why are you talking about his time in the Word?” Because the hope is that as a husband reads God’s Word he will become convicted of his sin and repent. He will become a more patient and loving leader. I do not have the power to change a husband’s heart (and apparently neither does a wife or there would be no need for counseling). A husband can only become a new man through a relationship with Christ.

Likewise, a husband will respond, “I just told you how my wife humiliates me in front of our friends. Why would you mention joining a small group?” Because other believers can provide accountability, vulnerability, and transparency. You can learn from others and be challenged by their examples. When you are not involved in the body of Christ, you will not receive the encouragement and exhortation God wants you to have. You will feel alone, as though you are the only couple having these problems. You will not have anyone in your life through whom God can regularly speak to you. We are made to have fellowship with other believers, and when we do not have it, that lack manifests itself in other areas, including our marriages.

Two situations I have witnessed a number of times…

A husband and wife are having marriage problems. They submit to Christ, and soon their marriage problems improve. Why? Did their difficulties simply disappear? No, those difficulties had been symptoms of the real problem—Christ was not supreme in their lives. When they put Christ first, the marriage problems were shown only to be symptoms.

Conversely, I have seen a couple plugged into church. The husband and wife pray and read the Word together. They are doing well spiritually, and their marriage is healthy. Then, for various reasons, they:

  • Get distracted from the Lord and their priorities shift
  • Start wavering in church attendance and spiritual disciplines
  • Fall out of fellowship

Soon their marriage suffers. Why? Their relationship with Christ was suffering.

So remember: Marriage “problems” are really only symptoms—or negative consequences—of not having Christ as the focal point in the marital relationship. If couples want a strong, healthy marriage, they need a strong, healthy relationship with Christ. When a couple’s relationship with Christ is weak and unhealthy, the marriage will be weak and unhealthy.

Discussion questions for husbands and wives

  • While remembering to focus on yourself, if a “marriage doctor” were to examine your marriage, what are three “symptoms” he would observe?
  • What does your time in God’s Word look like? If you are unsatisfied with your answer, what changes should you make?
  • Are you involved in a church? Notice the question is not, “Do you go to church?” Or “Are you a member of a church?”
    • If you are involved in a church, in what ways do you share the marital challenges you are experiencing so God can use your church family to help you?
    • If you are not involved in a church, what changes need to be made so you can be active and involved?

Marriage God's Way bundle—1 book and 2 workbooksNOTE: Most of this post is from Marriage God’s Way and the Marriage God’s Way Workbook.  Save %30 and purchase the bundle—one book and two workbooks!

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8 thoughts on “Marriage problems are really only symptoms

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  3. Thanks, Scott, for another great post. This lesson takes humility and Holy Spirit conviction to learn, but it’s so necessary! Our marriage problems cannot be fixed outside of Christ. They are not compartmentalized in a different section that our walk with God. Thanks for the encouragement to think of marital issues as symptoms and to prayerfully consider what the root causes are.

    1. Hi Beka,
      Well said. Good way to think about it—our Christian life can’t be compartmentalized.

      By the way, I hope anyone who reads your comment also checks out your review of Marriage God’s Way!.

      I appreciate you reading and commenting!

  4. I agree with you. I notice that when I am in the word, I am a better wife and mother. I’ve heard other people say the same. It goes back to putting God first and everything else falling into place.

    1. Hi Tara,
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m glad you agree :).

  5. Hey Scott. Great post. I agree with you that putting God first keeps a marriage on track. It makes perfect sense. God is the source for our needs. If I have a lack of love, I need to go to God to fill my love tank and from that place I can love my husband and children unconditionally. Marriage is about unconditional love and respect that is given irrespective of how we feel or our spouse’s behavior – it’s a choice that we make out of obedience to Christ.

    On a different note and a more personal one, I think your points are more geared towards couples that are both are Christian. In my marriage, my hubby went from being Christian to Agnostic (long story) and I’m still a dedicated Christian. In our case, I’ve found that God has had to grow my marriage by me implementing all of what you are talking about regardless of my husband’s spiritual decisions (he doesn’t go to church, we don’t pray or read the Bible together, etc.). I guess it becomes a more living out of 1 Peter 3. I’m just thinking out loud here.

    Great post. Love your wisdom and insights.

    1. Hi Allie,
      Thank you for commenting and sharing so openly and honestly. I am very, very sorry to hear that your husband professed to be a Christian and would now consider himself Agnostic.

      Yes, you’re right that this post is definitely geared more toward Christians. As I mentioned at the bottom of this post (and others), most of this information is taken from my book, Marriage God’s Way. Like the title implies the goal is to help live out God’s plan for marriage (as it’s laid out in Scripture). But with that said, there is a chapter titled, “Winning Over Your Husband.” As you would probably guess, it’s drawn from 1 Peter 3. There is a section in that chapter title, “What If You Are Married to an Unbeliever?” Here’s part of that section. I hope it might be an encouragement to you!

      For wives who find themselves in marriages with unbelieving husbands, Peter offers encouragement and hope. Through a wife’s example of godly submission, her husband may be won to faith in Jesus. In a parallel passage found in 1 Corinthians 7:13–16, Paul explains why a believing wife is called to submit to her unbelieving spouse rather than simply leave him to find a marriage partner more compatible with her spiritual commitment:
      And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
      Believing spouses are called to remain in the marriage relationship insofar as it is up to them. “Sanctified” means “set apart” or “holy.” By staying married, the believing spouse is able to have a spiritual influence on the unbelieving spouse. The unbelieving spouse is being “set apart” to constant exposure of the believing spouse’s faith. This can allow the unbelieving spouse to come to faith as well. Logically, we understand that one of the best ways for unbelievers to come to salvation is through relationships with believers. An unbeliever could have no more intimate relationship with a believer than through marriage.
      Likewise, the children of the marriage are far more likely to be exposed to godly living through the believing spouse remaining in the home and creating a Christian environment. The alternative breaks up the home, possibly leaving the children in the primary custody of the unbelieving parent. In 1 Corinthians 7:13–16, this issue is directed primarily at the believing wife, perhaps because in the time period in which Paul was writing, husbands had sole legal possession of their children. A believing wife who abandoned the marriage would also be abandoning her children to the custody and sole influence of an unbelieving husband. As Paul concluded, a believer staying in the marriage may provide just the influence necessary to bring an unbelieving spouse or child to faith. It is not guaranteed, however. Paul wrote, “How do you know . . .?” pointing out that it is only a possibility—not a certainty.

      Allie, I just want to conclude by applauding your commitment to your marriage. I wish more people in your situation would follow your example.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please share!