Most marriages have times when one spouse does not like the other, and the dislike is usually mutual—at least my “friends” tell me that is accurate, though I’m confident that even when my wife thinks she doesn’t like me, she secretly—very secretly—likes me. For some of us, these times happen less frequently and we manage them with more skill and grace. For others, mutual dislike is chronic rather than acute, and marital hopelessness becomes the rule.
I hate that hopelessness. The choices are to persist in the relationship and see who dies first or to craft an independent life and try to pretend you don’t care. Either way, your soul withers. It is hard to have a vibrant life with God when your primary relationship is in the dumper.
So, what can you do?
1. I don’t know. That might not seem too helpful but, at least, it shows you some respect. I am saying that there is nothing easy about your situation. If any friend or counselor has the answer for you, that person probably doesn’t understand that you have tried all the answers and they don’t work.
The blessed feature of this is that the only thing we can do is cry out for mercy to the God who hears, understands, has a unique interest in relational unity, and has the power to raise the dead. The ever-present danger in counseling is that counselors figure out ways to “fix” people, which means that we might bypass our spiritual neediness and constant dependence on the Spirit.
In this sense, “I don’t know” means “in your hopelessness, you are at the end of yourselves and need divine intervention.” Such humility is both attractive and hopeful.
2. Volunteer to go first. When both spouses have their guns loaded and aimed, it takes a good bit of spiritual courage to lower your weapon first. But, assuming that you are not in a physically dangerous situation, it is the only way to win. The Sermon on the Mount codifies the way of power and prestige (Matt. 5:1-10). Imagine how good it would be to be disliked by your spouse for doing righteousness rather than selfishness. Imagine setting your goal to love your spouse more than you want to be loved by your spouse. The worst that will happen is that you will be blessed and know Jesus better than ever. The best thing that will happen is that you will know Jesus better, spiritual beings will be stunned at the power of God in weak people, and, somehow, you will have contributed to the Kingdom of God in ways that will endure far beyond death.
Anyone willing to drop their weapons? It gets boring to fight with someone who doesn’t fight back with worldly strategies.
3. Remember that your battle is not with flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). If we know anything, it is this: Satan is invited into every divided relationship (Eph. 4:26), and, once invited, he will not leave unless his invitation is revoked. Every divided relationship—all hopelessness—has demonic fingerprints all over it. It is as if hopeless spouses are aiming their bb guns at each other; meanwhile, Satan’s rocket launcher is ready to destroy husband, wife, and anyone who is close by, such as children.
Somehow, at least one spouse must see that Satan is a much greater threat than the other spouse.
You will receive little consolation to know that there are other Christians who are in hopeless relationships that look quite similar to your own. But you should be encouraged that hopelessness is a small step from spiritual neediness, which is the foundation of all change. And you should be encouraged that the impossible—think of the Israelites being cornered by Egyptians at the Red Sea—is an ideal venue for God’s power.