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5 Ways to Go from Stuck to Thriving in Your Marriage

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“Whatever you do, make sure you don’t move.” The medical technician repeated his stern warning for the third time as he adjusted the helmet-like contraption that encircled my head.

I inhaled deeply, thankful for the cloth covering I had asked him to put over my eyes, as he wheeled my supine body into the MRI machine.

I hate tight spaces.

The medical term for this is claustrophobia, and I have a bad case of it. As the machine began doing its thing, a series of loud knocking noises, beeps, and other indescribable sounds echoed in my ears. I took another deep breath, hoping my head didn’t budge on the exhale.

The minutes passed, and I began thinking about my work. I love what I do. I get to help couples who feel stuck in their marriages see a different perspective. Much like how I felt the morning of my MRI, these couples often feel helpless and incapable of moving beyond where they are in their current condition. Perhaps you feel this way now. The distractions of life are whirling all around you, and you’re just trying to breathe through them.

Being Stuck is Temporary 

I was told my MRI would take approximately 40 minutes. I found myself dozing off to sleep and wondered how much longer I’d be in the machine. I started thinking of all I had to do that day . . . clients to meet with, dinner to cook, oh, and an urgent run to Trader Joe’s. I began making a mental list of what I would do first, what sides I needed to buy to go with the dinner I had planned, and so on. Thinking about my next moves helped the time to pass more quickly.

When you feel stuck in your marriage, there is a tendency to think your condition is permanent. Maybe you’ve been here before; the problems creep back in like uninvited house guests. Disappointment settles in because you thought you’d be farther along in your marriage by now. Why can’t you and your spouse seem to make any headway? Perspective is an important tool when diagnosing marriage problems. Are you really stuck, or is this temporary setback setting you up for greater awareness in your relationship?

Some things in our lives remain hidden until the light of God’s word reveals them. Like the high-tech cameras that took images of my brain, I needed to be still to get the full picture. When you find yourself stuck in your marriage, it is helpful to ask what needs to be revealed. What attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors need adjusting? Is there a malignant growth, like unforgiveness or bitterness, hidden in the recesses of your heart? Has the connection between your heart and your spouse’s heart been interrupted, and the life-giving flow of love can’t pass through?

Whatever the cause, it’s important to remember that being stuck is temporary. Too many married couples short-circuit the process of investigation because they have no foresight to understand what the stuck point can teach them. Pain is a terrible reason to end a marriage. If you’re in pain, it simply means that you’re alive. Pain is also an indicator that something is wrong, not that everything is wrong.

You Have a Choice 

I don’t understand why my body reacted the way it did in the days preceding my MRI. I do know it was trying to alert me that something was amiss. I could have chosen to ignore it, or I could have chosen to investigate. Obviously, I chose the latter. When you feel stuck in your marriage, you always have a choice. You are not a victim of your life. Being stuck is a state of mind. When you realize that the “stuck point” is there to teach you something, you begin to discover that these temporary stalemates are working to produce a deeper intimacy in your marriage.

There was a point in my marriage when I never thought my husband and I would overcome the financial mess we were in. We’d take two steps forward and finally pay off a credit card, only to have an unexpected financial need arise with one of our children. We tried to save an extra fifty dollars that month only to learn we had accidentally overdrawn our checking account. It was like a yo-yo of disappointment and despair. Would we succumb to living paycheck to paycheck, or would we put some new habits in place to give us a little breathing room the next month?

Over time, we learned how to manage our finances properly. We weren’t stuck; we were starting over. Too few married couples understand the beauty of starting over. Things don’t turn out the way we planned, and we’re, instead, tempted to throw the whole thing away. But why not just start over? Again and again, you can begin anew.

We are encouraged, through God’s words to the prophet Isaiah, to change our perspective on what God is doing now.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV

The past is the past. You can’t go back and change that. But you can begin anew again. Allow God to show you the way. And if you’re having a hard time finding the way, He promises to make a way in your wilderness.

Strategies for Reconnecting 

  1. Begin with the end in mind. I would never have allowed myself to be shoved into a tiny tube for nearly an hour had I not believed that what my doctors found through the test would benefit me in the long run. Likewise, when you realize that doing the work of discovering what’s hiding behind the seemingly obvious problems in your marriage is worth the discomfort, you’ll surrender to the process.
  2. Keep calm. We learned in middle school that humans “fight, flight, or freeze when they perceive danger.” We do the same in marriage. When problems arise, it’s important to stay calm and not overreact. Your spouse may seem threatening, but they are not the real problem. Just because this season is difficult doesn’t mean it’s damaging. (Listen to: What If Married the Wrong Person?)
  3. Do What You Can, Not What You Can’t. You cannot change your spouse. You’ve tried, and it hasn’t worked. However, you can change yourself. Focus on what you can change about your responses, attitude, and role in the marriage. Where have you fallen short and need to ask for forgiveness? What new patterns can you implement to move forward in your relationship? You’ll worry yourself sick trying to make something happen that is beyond your control. Instead, choose to work on what’s in your power to control.
  4. Trust the Process. We used to sing a song called Trouble Don’t Last Always in the church I grew up inIt’s bad grammar, but it’s good gospel. Trouble is temporary. Trust that your good Father knows what he is doing. God often uses the strife in our marriage to teach us to rely on Him in every circumstance. Too often, we can make an idol out of our spouse, so God has to allow us to see them in the correct light. If God brought you to it, He will bring you through it. Trust that his plans for you are always good (Jeremiah 29:11).
  5. Get Support. We were created for community. No marriage can make it alone. Look at the word community. Its root word is unity. You can only have real unity in your marriage when you are connected to a community. Church matters. Mentors matter. Friendships matter. Talking to someone about your marriage problems can seem frightening. Vulnerability is a must-have characteristic of a healthy marriage. There are a plethora of resources that you can consume on your own, but their impact is magnified when you discuss and practice what you’re learning in community with others. Professionals, like marriage coaches or counselors, can help you and your spouse gain a different perspective of where you are in your relationship and help you create a plan to get you moving forward.

I’m happy to share that the results of my MRI were encouraging. I made it out alive and will continue to thrive in my health and life. You, too, will make it out of this “stuck place” in your marriage if you keep your eyes on what matters, surrender to the Lord’s guidance, and trust him to make all things new.

Matthias David
Matthias David
Working in His vine, as He does even more at mine.
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