“I’m really frustrated with my marriage.” – “My wife is driving me crazy!” – “I am so sick of my husband!” – “Our marriage just isn’t what it used to be.” – “I just don’t feel satisfied with my marriage.” – “Is this as good as it gets?” – “I’m not happy anymore.”

So many different ways of expressing dissatisfaction with married life – and I’ve heard a lot of them in my office.  The details of the problems can vary greatly, and just when I think I’ve heard it all, I hear a painful new story.  Humans are tremendously complex creatures, being made in the likeness of a fantastic, multi-layered God.  To say that human relationships, particularly marriages, are complex is a huge understatement.  And yet…

While I am always keenly interested in the particular dynamics of the individuals and marriages of the couples with whom I work, I am beginning to see marriage in simpler terms.  Most couples who seek counseling with me do so because one or both spouses are feeling unhappy.  And they are hoping I can offer them the guidance they need to find the path back to happiness.  It is human nature to desire happiness and fulfillment, and we certainly expect to experience it in our marriages, of all places.   We all know we will experience some times of unhappiness in this journey of life, but significant ongoing unhappiness within a marriage is typically a sign of a problem that needs to be addressed and resolved.  And professional marital counseling is often the best approach.  But here is where it gets…tricky.

Actually, paradoxical is the best word for it.  A paradox is a situation where two things which seem to be opposed to one another actually fit together in some mysterious way.  The great paradox of marriage counseling is this…

Everyone has a right to expect happiness and fulfillment in marriage.  In fact, I believe God desires marriage to be a great source of happiness, joy, and fulfillment.  And the more you make personal happiness your goal in marriage, the more unhappy you are likely to become.  The greatest path to happiness in marriage is to quit pursuing happiness…and begin to pursue holiness.

In my experience as a husband, a minister, and a professional counselor, I have come to wholeheartedly believe the best path to a great marriage is to follow God’s plan.  It just works.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you.”  “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”  “Each one of you (husbands) ought to love your wives, and the wife should respect her husband.”  “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”  “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.  In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him along but also to his wife.”  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Page after page of wisdom for successful married life is found between the covers of God’s instruction manual for human life – the Bible.  And it really, Really, REALLY works!!!

And you won’t find a lot of instruction on how to more effectively communicate your needs to one another, although we are clearly told to “speak the truth in love.”  You certainly won’t find a passage on the six keys to greater happiness in marriage.  What we do find is God instructing us as husbands and wives, as individual followers of the Way.  He places much greater significance on our hearts and actions reflecting obedience to His instructions than on our experience of happiness.  And yet our human nature convinces us to seek first our own happiness and fulfillment in marriage, and if blessing our spouses helps get us there – so be it.  Doesn’t God’s word still instruct us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well”?

Am I jumping on you for wanting to be happy in your marriage?  Certainly not.  I want to be happy in my marriage, and to deny it would be foolish.  But in life, married or otherwise, God calls me first to be obedient, holy, and faithful – and to trust in Him for the blessings of happiness and fulfillment.  If you find yourself feeling unhappy in your marriage, I hope you will consider with an open mind and heart the possibility that the path to greater happiness is more likely to involve working on yourself and blessing your mate than learning the best way to communicate your unhappiness to your spouse.

For further guidance, I highly recommend Gary Thomas’ excellent book, “Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?” I also recommend the classic short story by O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi.” For more personal assistance, call my office at 225-387-2287 for an appointment, or email me at Roger@hopeforyourfamily.com.

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