Is my marriage broken? Is there any hope for healing? After asking these very questions of her own marriage, Donna Bucher shares a powerful testimony of how God used her troubled marriage as a refining tool, leading her to healing, hope, and oneness in Him. She points to truths from Scripture that transformed how she viewed herself, her husband, their marriage, and most importantly God. Donna’s story exemplifies how letting go of the fairy tale idea of marriage can lead to a true happily ever after.
The loneliness felt as stifling as the summer heat. Yet somehow it felt familiar at the same time. Closing my eyes, a frustrated sigh escaped while tears slowly made their way down my face. Another session of stinging words, accusations, and contempt-filled stares replayed in my mind’s eye in full Technicolor. It triggered the same thoughts. Marriage isn’t supposed to be this way. He never loved me. Why doesn’t God see?
The dimness of the day’s fading light was reminiscent of the hopelessness gripping my heart. Yes, no doubt, in a day or two, this session would slip into the archives of a troubled marriage. Surely, pursuing our ‘normal’ life would continue. Still, an ugly voice whispered the now familiar “Until the next time.” I wondered if our marriage was truly broken and there was any hope for healing. Wiping the tears from my face with the back of my hand, I grabbed my nightgown, and headed for the shower.
WHERE DOES IT ALL GO WRONG?
Like most newly married couples, hope held our hearts, laughter graced our lips, and love filled our eyes. Heading into our new roles, we carried hope for the future before us. We believed we had learned from our previous marriages, both ending in difficult divorces. But we soon found we still carried all of the unopened baggage with us into our new relationship.
But the old baggage bore only part of the blame. Expectations, faulty assumptions, and reluctance toward forgiveness birthed anger, resentment, and bitterness. Combined with a healthy dose of denial, the end result was a ticking time bomb.
Before long, the glitter diminished from the fairy tale. The reality of two broken people stumbling around a new relationship with old demons eroded not only happiness between us, but also trust. The nightmarish roller coaster of highs and lows reduced our marriage to nothing more than a facade. One that continued for many long years. Until God spoke a life transforming truth to my soul.
A DEEPER PROBLEM
My first marriage ended after two years with my husband’s departure and a divorce one year later. The resulting scars jaded my view of marriage and crippled my weak concept of self-worth. Dictated by others, my identity faltered outside of a meaningful relationship.
Rededicating my life to Christ began a healing journey that would span many years. But the initial stages renewed my thirst for His Word, His ways, and His will. Early in my newly rekindled faith, I met my current husband—an established Christian.
Sharing our faith and relationship with Christ, memorizing Scripture, attending church—these were all components missing from my first marriage. I increased in joy through my burgeoning relationship with Christ. But slowly my affections became more focused on my husband. Looking to him for approval, comfort, and instruction opened the door for my expectations for love, contentment, and happiness to seek their fulfillment in him rather than Christ.
A SLOW FADE
At the time, it seemed the deterioration of our marriage relationship transpired rather quickly. But looking back, knowing what I now know, the shock at how long it took until things imploded greets me more readily.
Like us, many couples bring old baggage of all sorts into marriage. Not necessarily only from previous marriages, but also from dysfunctional families, personal trauma, and a poor understanding of biblical love and marriage. Added to that, subversive cultural messages pervade our homes through entertainment, news, and social media.
All these factors combined form the perfect storm. It simmers over time in the vast ocean of brokenness, which local churches seem ill equipped to address, much less step in and help resolve.
And so we keep up appearances. We repair the facade as best as possible, living in fear someone might one day discern the truth. We forget the One who not only knows the truth, but holds the keys to healing both our marriage and our brokenness.
A JOURNEY INTO ISOLATION
Over time, the disagreements turned uglier, the words harsher, and the attempts at reconciliation weaker. Gradually, anger birthed resentment and insidious roots of bitterness grew deep. Isolation became a dark place of solace for both of us. It pushed us further into inescapable brokenness and farther from the union we so craved.
The most crippling part of the isolation not only moved me farther away from my husband, but farther away from God. Regrettably, anger, resentment, and bitterness refuse to be confined to one box. Once allowed a firm root, they can defile every relationship around us, including our relationship with God.
Every retreat into isolation brought a rehashing of every previous injustice, cruel word, and action. This only bred more anger, resentment, and bitterness. Self-pity and satan, the real enemy of my soul, lifted an accusing finger toward God. “Why did He do nothing? Did He not see and hear the cruel words and actions?”
AN ENCOUNTER WITH GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
I was on the brink of giving up completely. But God met me in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50). An unlikely place for marriage counseling, but God revealed the root of both my marriage and personal struggles within Joseph’s story.
He was born into a dysfunctional family. Sold into slavery by his own brothers, slandered by his master’s wife, unjustly imprisoned and largely forgotten for 13 long years. Yet he still inspires us with his complete trust in God.
Outside of Jesus Christ, possibly no other Bible illustration personifies the complete trust in God’s sovereignty we see displayed in Joseph. He, beyond disputation, endured cruelty and unjust treatment, yet without a hint of reviling, retaliation, or revenge seeking.
We can imagine the dark moments of the soul and the severe trial of faith he may have endured. But God chooses that we remain outside of these private moments in the biblical account of his story. Yet He reveals the true gold of Joseph’s heart through the fire in one of the most poignant statements in all of the Bible. “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:20, HCSB).
God met me in my Egyptian prison. He began the long journey of healing and freedom found in a simple truth. I called Christ my Savior, but I never acknowledged His sovereignty over my life. Instead I blamed Him for my suffering.
HOPE FOR HEALING
I prayed many years for God’s intervention in my broken marriage. Yet in His sovereignty, as with Joseph, God chose not to answer immediately. Instead, He allowed many failed attempts on my part at ‘fixing’ my husband, seeking advice in the wrong places, and many lonely nights feeling sorry for myself.
In short, He allowed me to come to the end of myself, my ways, and my disobedience. What I interpreted as silent indifference, was actually a loving Father skillfully guiding His child toward the healing she so desperately needed.
Over many painful years, God relentlessly pursued our hearts with the express desire of healing our singular brokenness. In the end, this redeemed our broken marriage.
While I faced many challenges, and still stumble into the old ways, these truths changed the way I view myself, my husband, our marriage, and most importantly, God.
MARRIAGE GOD’S WAY
First, let me say if your spouse is toxic or physically abusive, or your relationship precludes respectful communication, please get to a safe place, create boundaries, and get counseling. Christian marriage portrays a picture of Christ and the Church, His bride. But sometimes that image becomes so marred, the wisest decision for all parties can be a time of healing separation with the goal of working toward reconciliation.
Maybe you experience a deeply troubled marriage as we did. Or perhaps you are encountering the hard, dry seasons every marriage moves through. Regardless, I hope these timeless truths bring hope, encouragement, and strength. Of course, for a truly healthy marriage to flourish and grow, both spouses must commit to working through difficulties. But God can work through one tender, obedient heart to shift the entire relationship.
Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty Over Your Life
This includes your marriage. Every moment of every day of our lives sifts through the sovereign hands of Almighty God.
Trust in the Goodness of God
If God is good, we must trust that His ways are also good. Our view and tendency of labeling circumstances as “good” or “bad” can easily undermine trust in a good God. Romans 8:28 reminds us God works all things for our good. But that does not mean all things are good by our definition. Let’s remember that God often uses suffering for our refinement and conformity to the image of Christ. This is the ultimate goal—not our personal happiness.
Remember Your Identity in Christ
It might seem simple. But for years my identity was shaped by my accomplishments, relationships, and what others said about me. I crippled our marriage by sourcing my identity in its success or failure. I put not only myself but also my husband under pressure to create a positive outcome. Now, I remember that in Christ I am:
- Chosen (1 Peter 2:9-10).
- Empowered (Galatians 2:20).
- Forgiven (Ephesians 1:7-8).
- Beloved (Romans 5:6-8).
- Uncondemned (Romans 8:1).
- Welcomed (Hebrews 4:16).
- Accepted (Ephesians 1:6).
Contentment Comes From Christ
Our identity rests in our position in Christ, and as a result, our contentment and fulfillment must rest in Him alone. I spurned Christ by seeking contentment, love, and fulfillment in my husband. Yet true contentment will never be found in our spouse. Only Christ offers us true contentment through:
- Knowing the person of Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).
- Understanding our position in Christ (Philippians 3:9).
- Living in the power of Christ (Philippians 4:12).
Deal With Unforgiveness
An important lesson from the story of Joseph taught me anger, bitterness, and resentment are the fruits of unforgiveness. As long as my focus remained on my husband’s sin and my [perceived] unjust treatment, I refused to forgive. Forgiveness, however, provides the key to the door of true reconciliation. Without it, unresolved conflict remains a barrier to true intimacy. Paul instructs us in Colossians 3:12-17 about the importance of forgiveness in our ability to truly put on love and dwell in unity.
You Are Not Responsible For Fixing Your Husband
As spouses, we live so close to one another as to get up close and personal with one another’s flaws and sins. A change of behavior may be needed, but behavior only changes through a complete heart change, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 reminds us to own our part in every disagreement and examine our own hearts for sin and necessary change. In short, mind your own business, and focus on your own sin.
Pray For Your Husband
Continually pray Scripture over him and seek God’s will for his life, not your will and desire for his life.
Choose Obedience to the Lord Over Your Rights
Exerting “my rights” in my marriage made everything about me and my happiness. When faced with conflict or unkindness I always have a choice in how I respond. No one would have blamed Joseph if he exercised his ‘rights’ and power of position in retaliation against his brothers. Instead he chose obedience to God in his responses. We can do this by:
- Choosing a response that leads to healing. Angry responses only stir up more hurt (Psalm 37:8). Avoid bringing up past offenses. You will never regret what you choose not to say.
- Choosing a God-honoring response. Avoid manipulation, defensive comments, and sulking. Seek God’s wisdom in how to love in each situation.
Remember Healing Takes Time
A truly healthy marriage is forged over time. God never hurries, but uses all facets of your marriage relationship to heal you, grow your faith, and conform you to the image of Jesus Christ. Throughout your healing journey, remain vigilant in prayer, nurture your own personal relationship with Christ, and relentlessly deal with your own sin.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Like Joseph, I sojourned in the land of suffering in order that the dross of dysfunction, trauma, self-focus, unforgiveness, and unbelief might be purged. God used my troubled marriage as a refining tool and a way of rescue leading me to healing, hope, and oneness in Him.
The journey of a lifetime together, marriage teaches us commitment and perseverance through faith in God’s sovereign will for our lives. Just like our Christian walk, our marriage experiences refinement over time. My husband and I still stumble, but now Christ claims the fullness of our affections, worship, and obedience. Forgiveness and reconciliation come easier and love covers sin.
Ultimately, letting go of the fairy tale idea of marriage can lead to a true happily ever after. A covenant relationship, marriage involves choosing love and forgiveness in obedience to God. No one ‘falls’ in love. Forged in the fires of suffering, sacrifice, intentionality, and faith; true love emerges as a rare and precious jewel, coveted by many yet held by few.
Author’s Note: This article reflects my story from my point of view. My husband’s story is his story to tell, I do not presume to relate his thoughts here. Though his story likewise holds plenty of received unkindness, cruel words, and unjust treatment, our struggles and their origins were individual. Marriage is composed of two imperfect people recognized as “one flesh,” and God deals with each of us in unique ways through His process of reconciliation.
How has Donna’s experience encouraged you in your current marriage season? Have you experienced a similar testimony where God brought healing to your marriage which you thought was perhaps irreparably broken?
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