Finding Your Way Out of Feeling Stuck in Your Marriage – Part 1
I’ve walked with people who were going through the agonizing search for their next steps while leaving their marriage, in my practice as a divorce attorney. While I was able to give people direction about their legal steps, all I could do was listen as they gradually came to terms with what had happened relationally:
How did we drift so far apart?
Why didn’t I see this coming?
We were living like roommates. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in a loveless marriage.
Most of the people I spoke with (not everyone) said that their partner was to blame for this or that, which led to their breakdown. I’m not being critical of their perspective, because I know what it’s like. I see far more clearly years and years after my own season of despair over my marriage how I wasn’t the “victim” I thought I was.
It’s his (or her) fault!
I put “victim” in quotes because I assumed the same posture that I discovered in most of my law clients. I saw myself as a victim of Carey’s shortfalls and weaknesses and I assigned the majority of the blame for our relationship unhappiness to Carey. Almost every person I’ve come across who’s going through a separation sees themselves as a victim of their ex to some extent.
After years of reflection, advice, marriage counselling and personal growth, I see how misguided my own blaming tendency truly was. It’s blinding. Years later, after both of us became serious about growing in our capacities to love and serve each other, our relationship has broken out of that dynamic and flourished.
A sidenote of caution…
Some people in relationships are victims in the sense that their safety and integrity is under threat or has been violated. Each relationship is unique.
Generally speaking, I’m writing to encourage couples who are unhappy, perhaps deeply unhappy. You may be in a marriage that is not only unhappy, but harmful. If you’re unsure about the distinction, read this.
Wisdom from Micah
I have always been a reader. When Carey and I were stuck in our marriage, I consumed a lot of books, looking for answers. It’s been my daily routine for decades to search the bible for wisdom by reading through it. But during that long season of struggle, somehow, I failed to notice the prophet Micah’s words.
In the midst of complaining to God about how unhappy I was and questioning how God could me lead me into such a mess, I would have done well to hear what Micah had to say.
Who is Micah? He was one of God’s prophets whose predictions about the future of God’s people proved to be accurate. Micah was recognized as an authority – someone who spoke the messages of God to the ancient Israelite people. He warned them of the consequences of their unjust and corrupted practices.
He was gifted with wisdom and made a widely quoted and enduring statement about what God was truly looking for from his people:
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8
How can this ancient wisdom help us? How can it help you? Let’s look at each of the three parts of Micah’s advice.
To act justly
What does justice require? What is the next just or right thing to do?
Depending on your circumstances, this will take some reflection on the issues and problems between you, analysis of which one is an immediate priority, and sensitivity to the needs of every family member who will be impacted. This is a critical question, but not the one I’m writing about.
To love mercy
What does mercy require? How can I view my partner’s make-up or behaviour with more compassion?
Mercy is unmerited or unearned favor. It is the undeserved release of a debt, which allows you to say to the person who hurt you, You don’t owe me. Mercy is like a generosity of the soul that says, You’ve done nothing to earn my favor in what you did—quite the opposite—but I’m extending it to you anyway.
The second part of Micah’s admonition is critical for any satisfying long-term relationship, but also not the focus for my writing today.
Lastly, we read “to walk humbly with your God”. What does humility require? I’m going to leave you to ponder the first two parts of Micah’s advice on your own and focus on the advice he saved for last – maybe the best part.
To walk humbly with your God
What does it mean to ‘walk humbly with your God?’ The way I see it, there are three aspects:
– A posture of openness and receptivity;
– Purposeful movement; and
– The company of a Creator who intimately guides you while you walk.
In the earlier years of our struggling marriage, I needed to learn how to ‘walk humbly with God.’ It took some time to become open and receptive to advice, as I was being blinded by the victim narrative in the back of my mind. I needed to be reminded that with each choice of how I interacted with Carey, I was either walking toward progress or taking steps away from it.
I needed to allow godly wisdom to shake up some of my behaviours that were born out of insecurity, but hurtful to Carey nonetheless.
From Micah – a few questions
You have the opportunity to pause and look into whatever might be your role in your marriage struggles. Even if it’s a small role. So about this first aspect of openness, ask yourself: in what specific area of our struggles am I blind to my own role? Asked another way, how is my pride preventing me from coming to terms with, and working on, a weakness or character flaw that’s hurting us?
You may need the help of someone else close to you, or a counsellor, to answer that question. It’s called a blindspot for a reason.
Which brings us to the second part of Micah’s advice to walk humbly. “To walk”. Purposeful movement. Maybe this is your opportunity to grow in your ability to love yourself and others well—before you split.
Is it possible that one of the existing barriers between you and a fully satisfying marriage could rest within your influence? Within your decision to take a step in a new direction? What if your humbly admitting even one small weakness coupled with your resolve to overcome it made all the difference?
We found power in our faith
Faith in God may or may not be a part of your worldview. I think Micah’s words are wise for everyone, regardless of your spiritual beliefs.
For Carey and I, we found strength in our walk with Jesus. One of Jesus’ followers whose life demonstrated steely faith, passionate love for people and active intellect was Paul. His life was massively turned around by a single supernatural encounter with Jesus, after Jesus’ resurrection. Paul described Jesus as having ‘the power of an indestructible life.’
Carey and I both leaned into the love and power we found in Jesus when we were dragging ourselves out of stuck in our marriage.
What aspirations do Micah’s words stir up in you?
Walking forward in humility may not only bring life into your relationship, it may bring you fully to life.