I’m a Christian, but I can’t stand my spouse…

What to do if the ‘L’ word has become the ‘H’ word.

So many Christians fall in love and envisage a perfect, blissful union with God at the centre. Yet so many end up disliking, or even despising, the person they marry. Whether it’s arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes, a lack of romantic effort or something much more serious, many Christian marriages are in tatters. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fixed…

[Disclaimer: let’s just be clear that we’re not talking about abusive marriages here. For those who are experiencing verbal, physical, emotional, financial or sexual abuse it’s important that you take the appropriate action to ensure that you are safe. Talk to someone you trust or call Premier Lifeline if you are experiencing abuse of any kind in your marriage. Help is out there, and God sees your pain.]

If your marriage is making you feel sad, lonely, trapped, disappointed, misunderstood, frustrated or enraged, this bit is for you! Perhaps your spouse never remembers big occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries. Maybe she’s constantly on the phone or tablet. Perhaps he speaks down to you in front of other people. Maybe she swears in front of the children or he’s always late home from work. Perhaps she flirts with every man she meets or everything he does just pushes your buttons! Whatever it is, these things can build until we feel like we’re going to explode. So how can we make our spouses change?

The bad news is, it’s very difficult to change another person. It might not be exactly what you wanted to hear, but the best thing you can do if you’re locked in an unhappy marriage is to work on fixing yourself. Doing so may not get you over your hurt and hate but could even help you start loving your spouse again. Here’s how:

Think positively. Focus on the things that are good in your marriage, even if they’re few and far between. Make a list of things your spouse’s best attributes. Is he kind to animals, funny at dinner parties or hardworking in the office? Is she an excellent driver, a good friend or a connoisseur of cheese? Focus on the reasons you fell in love to begin with. Thank God for these positive qualities, and compliment your spouse when she or he puts them into practice. Try to spend more energy on gratitude and positive affirmation than on criticism and nagging. This is likely to become easier over time, so persevere with it.

Take control. Sometimes when things have turned sour in a relationship it feels as though you’re only ever a sentence away from divorce. This is usually because bad feeling is festering beneath the surface all the time. If that’s you, it’s time to take back control. Take every bad thought captive before it can take root. Stop keeping records of all the wrongs your spouse has done. Have some coping strategies in place for the days when you feel like completely losing it with your partner, for example retreating into the garden to pray or going to a friend’s house to unwind (without spending the whole time slagging off your spouse!). Communicate well with your partner so that you’re both clear about what’s happening and how you are each feeling. Ask God to give you the right attitudes and responses if the tension threatens to erupt into a blazing row.

Get praying. OK, so you probably saw this coming… and maybe you’ve already tried it but it didn’t work. This time, be as honest as you can with God. Ask him to give you his love for your spouse. Ask him to soften and heal your heart. Ask him to show you any lies you’ve believed as a result of your unhappy marriage. Ask him to help you forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, and to repent of any resentment, anger, bitterness, offence and hatred you have allowed to fester within you. Ask him for strength, healing, guidance, peace and patience. Finally, ask him to bless your spouse. When you get to the point where you can do that earnestly you’ll know that things have turned a corner!

A few helpful Bible verses:

Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

John 15:12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”

1 Corinthians 16:14: “Do everything in love.”

Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.”