Why Good Marriages Go Bad

Dear Friend,

I have witnessed many marriages I believed to be good, go bad—filled with rancor, immorality, divorce, and the like. What a far cry from the wedding day, when the bride and groom believed there were no difficulties they could not conquer with love — and they fully expected to live happily ever after!

In my observation, several root causes surface after marriage, some of which could have been anticipated before the “I do’s” were said. Love—or what passes for love—often blinds us to the realities of who a potential spouse really is. So what are some reasons a good marriage can turn sour?

First, we are all tempted to be more in love with a body than a person. Our Hollywood culture influences us to pay more attention to appearance than the character, personality, and past behavior of a potential spouse. After the physical/sexual attraction wears off, many couples discover they have very little compatibility; soon they drift apart and find themselves attracted to other people.

Second, couples bring much more baggage into their relationships than they realize. Those who grow up in homes with alcoholism, abuse, or abandonment almost certainly harbor painful memories, latent anger, and mistrust—all of which may be well hidden until after marriage. Couples who marry as active sexual partners discover that the seeds sown in their premarital relationships bear bitter fruit. Without facing these matters realistically through confession and counseling, it is doubtful that couples will find themselves in a happy, committed relationship.

Third, most of us go into marriage expecting more from the relationship than it can deliver. We expect our mates to always do what we want, and that each of us will always put the other first in the relationship. In short, we expect marriage to bring the happiness that really only God can give us! Instead, we learn that we are all basically selfish, that human nature is difficult (perhaps impossible) to change, and that a harmonious marriage requires both partners to die to self-will.

Let me close by reminding those who are contemplating marriage—during the dating relationship you will see your partner at his/her best. Any problems you encounter will often be magnified many times over after marriage. Marriage does not change human behavior… it only reveals it.

If you are married, don’t throw away the joy that comes through the painful process of working through differences and learning forgiveness, patience, and love. Good marriages don’t have to go bad if couples have the humility to grow and learn more about the love of Christ. Only then will we be committed “till death do us part.”

What to Do When Your Good Marriage Goes Bad

Marriage is one of our most important relationships—and one of the hardest to get right. So what does God want us to do when everything starts to go wrong? How do we get back to the blessings He wants to give us through marriage? Here, Pastor Lutzer explores some biblical thinking that can save a marriage gone wrong.

Q: Can God ever bless a foolish vow—can He bless a marriage that really should not have happened?

A: Yes. As for foolish vows, Joshua made a foolish vow with the Gibeonites because “he did not ask the counsel of the Lord” (Joshua 9:14), and God made the best of his wrong decision. The Gibeonites became a part of Israel’s history and the famous battle of Gibeon (where the sun stood still) happened as a result. David should never have murdered Bathsheba’s husband so that he could marry her, but she gave birth to Solomon, whom the Lord loved (and who wrote most of the book of Proverbs). God is never without options to bless the messes we create for ourselves!

Q: How does God make the best of a bad marriage?

A: A bad marriage is a laboratory in which the faithfulness of God can be most clearly seen against the backdrop of human failure and regret. You must invite God to walk with you through the difficult valleys and deep tunnels. God’s faithfulness is not just seen when the sun is shining; it is sometimes most obvious when darkness envelops our closest relationships. The greater your need, the greater the available grace.

Q: How should a couple respond to arguments in marriage?

A: The basic rule: when sinned against, do not sin in return! Too often marital strife is exacerbated by retaliation, cursing, threats, and vengeance. The New Testament is clear that we should avoid such responses. Jesus Himself did not retaliate, but “He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). He was willing to wait for God to bring justice to His situation. Difficult marriage are a training ground for developing the fruits of character, forgiveness, grace, faith, and patience.

Q: When a relationship begins to go bad, what should a spouse do?

A: You must accept the fact that your marriage is what it is, and regardless of the wisdom (or lack of it) in having married, the relationship must now be viewed as God’s will and purpose. God has you where He wants you, even if you feel backed into a corner. It is too late and very unprofitable for you to live with regret or wonder whether you have married the “right one.” Now that you are married, the one to whom you are joined by covenant is the “right one.” If you live in the house called Regret you will never move into the house called Hope. However, if there is abuse in the relationship, go for help immediately.

Q: What do you mean by committing your marriage to God?

A: To commit yourself and your marriage to God is a transfer of yourself, your mate, and your future to God—subject to His will and purpose. I’ve prayed with couples who have resisted this step for fear that God would ask them to do something they detest, like staying in the marriage, for example. What they don’t realize is that in the process of such submission, God grants the strength we need to follow through with obedience. In other words, God supplies the strength to do what He commands us to do. In faith we stop trying to change our mate, but trust God to do so.

Q: What about divorce?

A: Let that be the very last resort.