So you wake up soon after your wedding day—maybe it was a couple hours after the wedding, maybe a couple weeks—and say, “What have I done?”
There are many painful things we experience in life. This one weighs in as one of the most painful. You feel as though you have just received a life sentence or (maybe) a death sentence. Ironically, though recently married, you feel more alone than ever. Aloneness in marriage is just the worst.
Your temptation is to reboot the system. You made a bad decision, now you want to take it back. You consider seeking an annulment (I know people who have tried it). You figure that God doesn’t hold us accountable for stupid decisions, so we can leave the marriage.
Or… you avoid compounding what was perhaps a poor decision (to marry) with another poor decision (to leave the marriage), and… you consider your God.
Please don’t think that I am minimizing the challenges in front of you. I have witnessed people going through it and seen that the path can be hard and sometimes long. But I have also seen God’s mercy poured out on willing spouses—our Father is well-known for demonstrating great power in our weakness.
Things are not always as they seem. When people have regretted their decision to marry—and they might have good reasons for such regrets—the resulting humility and calling out to the Lord for help is downright glorious. That alone is beauty out of ashes.
Here are some helpful things I have heard from those who have gone before you.
Ask for prayer and wisdom from someone who will do more than simply commiserate. This is normal protocol in the Christian life, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. No one enjoys asking for help, and it is especially hard to acknowledge personal struggles in marriage. But followers of Jesus speak with our Lord about difficult things and we speak with each other. Most people I have talked to have spoken to a wise friend about their difficulties. In doing this they were not tattling on their spouses; they were seeking wisdom about how to go forward.
Be careful about focusing on your regrets, and even be careful about focusing on your marriage. Your goal is to grow in the knowledge of Jesus and discover how children of God are to thrive. John 10:10 is still for you: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This full life, of course, is much better than having whatever we want. Your goal is to catch a vision for the contentment that Paul found in Jesus (Phil. 4:11-12). He is telling you a great secret: Jesus is enough.
Bring more scrutiny to yourself than to your spouse. You might have to raise difficult issues with your spouse. The only way you can do this is to first develop expertise in putting your own sins and weaknesses under the microscope while you see your spouse’s with something less than twenty-twenty vision (Matt.7:3-5). Ugh. This one might take a miracle.
Search for the good in your spouse. By the good I mean anything that resembles, no matter how faintly, the true Father of all. When you live with someone long enough you will certainly see the person’s sins, but you will also see things that are praiseworthy. If you can’t see anything good, maybe it’s because you just don’t like your spouse and it is hard to find anything good in someone you don’t like. Consider forgiving your spouse for accumulated wrongs and start over.
Then, after these steps, talk about your marriage with your spouse. If you are planning to lead with “I wish I never married you,” then you should go back and review the other steps again. Aim to be concrete (what are the top two specific problems). Aim to be hopeful. Those who are praying for you can help you on this one.
No one will tell you that everything will soon be great. Actually, that isn’t quite true. I know some who might because that is their particular experience. Most veterans won’t be so rosy, but they will tell you that the struggle is worth it, and many would say that it was exactly what they needed.
This continues a matter raised a few weeks ago in “Why is Love So Stupid?” (July 23, 2012).