People hurt people. It has often been said that the closer we are to another, the more often, and more painful the hurt. Marriage, being the most intimate of human relationships, carries the most potential for hurt.
NOTE: I am not speaking of intentional emotional, physical, social, or sexual hurt caused by someone with evil motives. Manipulators, predators, and abusers must be dealt with in an entirely different way.
I have a good friend who recently shared with me the depth and breadth of his marriage pain. Pain exists that defies description. It strikes so close to who we are as a being, lingers so long and clings so close to the very core of our souls, that it becomes part of us. Something we despise and wish to shake off but to do so would be to lose a part of ourselves. His was like this. Marriage pain is so much different than most any other.
It’s because marriage is unlike any other relationship. God says it makes two people into one. It reflects the love relationship He has with His bride, the Church. So it’s somehow transcendent, holy, other-worldly. But so common that we often miss how profound it is. When it begins to break, so do we.
We spoke here and here recently of the expectations Christian men and women have of marriage. They are high and reasonable expectations based on the picture God gives of marriage in the Bible. We truly expect a lot out of marriage because the promises of marriage are so beautiful. But when a spouse stops trying to carry his or her part of those expectations, disappointment, discouragement, disconnection, and disaster follow close behind. That’s a lot of ‘dis-’ words, isn’t it?
When a spouse starts to fail it feels like he or she is ‘dis’ing us.
It can start to feel intentional.
Sometimes it is.
Sometimes it isn’t.
This post is about those. It’s about the times a spouse is not intentionally hurting us. He or she is simply clueless. Maybe wrapped up in his or her own stuff. Not treating the marriage as a partnership. Not serving the other. Not mindful of how things come across. Not careful about guarding his or her heart. Not actively denying selfish desires. Not determined to love.
When a spouse becomes clueless and inattentive, sometimes habitually, it leaves his or her partner in a tremendously difficult place. It’s hard not to question motives. It’s hard to see the offending spouse as a partner, friend, and lover. He or she just becomes an irritant.
What can you do when your spouse continually hurts you? Where can you direct your mind so the hurt doesn’t bore into your soul? How do you keep from becoming angry and bitter or depressed to the point of giving up?
This is what I suggested to my friend. It’s something the Apostle Paul was thankful he got to participate in. He said it like this,
‘I myself have been made a minister of the same Gospel, and though it is true at this moment that I am suffering on behalf of you who have heard the Gospel, yet I am far from sorry about it. Indeed, I am glad, because it gives me a chance to complete in my own sufferings something of the untold pains which Christ suffers on behalf of his body, The Church.’ Colossians 1:23-24 Phillips Translation
What Paul is saying is this. I’m suffering but I’m glad. Because my suffering looks like the suffering of Jesus for His Church. In a certain way, my suffering is an extension of the suffering of Jesus. What Paul is saying has an application to our marriages.
Paul is sharing his heart. He senses that the pain he feels is like the pain Jesus feels. God’s people (the Bride) hurt Jesus (the Husband) with cluelessness, inattention, selfishness, carelessness, sinfulness, and other self serving attitudes and actions – just like our spouses hurt us.
What I suggested to my friend, who has been hurt often and repeatedly by his spouse, is that he is experiencing what Jesus often experiences from His Bride. I then suggested he respond to his spouse like Jesus responds to His. It doesn’t necessarily remove the hurt. Pain may continue to cling. So why do I suggest we look at it this way? Aren’t I supposed to give you three easy steps to relieve the pain? I can’t. Pain like this doesn’t always end.
The reason I made the suggestion? Because it’s the best way to respond. There are so many illustrations of how Israel ignored and hurt God. There are so many instructions written to the Church to correct and encourage us to stop hurting God. And the Bible is stuffed from cover to cover with how God responds to His people who hurt Him. And His response is always perfect. If you know how God responds in the same situation it gives you a hint toward your best response.
I do have a few words on addressing general conflict with other Christians, either your spouse or withing the church. A basic knowledge on conflict resolution can help you deal with future pain, make sure to check out the e-book and increase that skill set.
I will venture one word to sum up everything though: grace. It’s how God responds to His people when they continually hurt Him. If you are sharing the experience of God. Having your heart continually wounded. I invite you to dig up some verses that display how God reacts. Here are a few to start with,
‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’ Numbers 6:24-26
‘For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations.’ Psalm 100:5
‘The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.’ Psalm 103:8
‘But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Romans 5:8