Q. My wife and I have been married for 30 years. We can’t resolve an issue that we’ve struggled with many times. We work it out for a while and then it pops up again. I love my wife but I’m not sure I can stay in our marriage any longer unless we resolve this. What do you suggest? Are there good reasons to stay together?
A. There are many good reasons to stay together. All couples have some recurring difficulties at some point in their marriage. They stay together, in spite of the difficulties, for a variety of reasons. Some couples stay together because they made a commitment to each other and to God when they got married.
Some stay because it’s too hard to leave. Some stay because being married is better than being alone. Some stay but have given up on their marriage. They ignore the problems; they go their separate ways yet remain married. Some couples split and then wish they hadn’t. Their conflict blinded them to the good in their relationship.
You may be interested in a book Married People - Staying Together in The Age of Divorce by Francine Klagsburn. The author studied long term marriages and came to the conclusion that there are some long-term marriages; she called “survivor marriages”, in which couples are resigned to continue to live together. Marriages in which there is satisfaction and excitement she called "creative marriages." Most lasting marriages include some "survivor" times and some "creative" times. Even the most creative marriages will have some empty spots or lulls. Also, a seemingly empty marriage may actually be built on deep attachments.
A marriage of 30 years lasts, in part, because of the positives in the relationship, because of the “creative” times. Are you focusing on this one problem and forgetting many other areas or times in your marriage that have been good?
Some couples split, marry someone else and find the same issue or issues coming up again in their new marriage. The conflict between you has something to do with you as well as with your wife. Leaving won’t solve it and will be more painful than staying.
Many couples stay because they have grown up and matured in their marriage; they have struggled and worked out differences. They love each other and are content though they know they may have new struggles in the future.
In a poll done by Psychology Today magazine, a man married for twenty plus years said, “Commitment means a willingness to be unhappy for a while.” Commitment also means we are willing to work on the relationship; we are willing to put time and effort into resolving issues, even 30 year old issues.
Joseph Campbell in his book An Open Life describes marriage as an ordeal. It’s an ordeal because we must give up some of our self-centeredness; we must surrender or sacrifice our own wants. Life is simpler alone. We can do as we please without paying attention to the needs of others. In marriage we must give ourselves continually, over and over to the relationship.
Life is a learning process. We learn not when things are easy but when they’re difficult. When we have to struggle we grow. Perhaps God designed marriage to force us grow rather than to make us happy! Look on the differences and difficulties in your marriage as opportunities to learn and grow.
The Third Option educational group or the Weekend to Remember can help you get unstuck and can help you regain a contented, growing love for each other. I also recommend you read Love Is A Decision by Gary Smalley and Love Is A Choice by Drs. Robert Hemfelt, Frank Minirth and Paul Meier. Christian counseling can also help couples who are stuck.
“Be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds.” 1 Peter 3:8 NLT