When duty overtakes love in marriage
Have you begun to feel like your marriage is more about duty than love?
You push forward in your obligations to God, your spouse, your children, and your responsibilities, but move backward in your feelings. Duty is like living under the law—you’re busy doing something, but you feel no passion or desire for it.
Many married people feel trapped because they want to fulfill their covenant in marriage, but they feel exceptional discouragement and disappointment. Their spouses may be experiencing a season of weakness due to physical or mental illness, job loss, or emotional turmoil. Or perhaps they have sinned and walked away from God.
There is hope. The same God who took dirt and fashioned the intricate details of the human body with its complexity of neurons, cells, and nerves can revive love in your marriage.
For more than 20 years, I worked hard in my marriage to make it work. I wanted more love than duty, but the needs of raising a family took first place. Love moved to a distant second, then third, and before long it was hardly on the radar. I became more duty-driven than love-motivated in my marriage. My love began to drift away, lost like a boat without oars.
While watching the movie The Painted Veil, I was moved when Kitty told Sister Mother that it was her duty to be with her husband in the cholera-ridden region of China. Sister Mother replied, “Duty is what you do when you wash your hands. Love and duty together reveal the grace within you.” We need the grace of God to help us experience the divine intertwining of love and duty resulting in a wonderful, sacrificial aroma to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The acronym GRACE is your guide to living the fulfilled life that God has predestined for your marriage.
G—Go to God first.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).
There will be times to call your friends or reach out to your trusted Bible study buddies, but they can’t be there in the darkest, loneliest moments. You may appreciate their words and acts of compassion, but it won’t be enough. This is between God and you. Your private time with God will determine the level of your marital contentment. My confession to God became “My heart’s not right and I know that’s not pleasing to you. I submit to the Holy Spirit to help me grow in this.”
It will take complete surrender and trust in him. In your hour of frustration you must speak out to God, “I believe you.” Something happens on the inside when you make a verbal affirmation of your faith in the valleys. There’s peaceful reassurance of his grace and presence that will guide you through the murky waters of uncertainty in your marriage.
R—Repent of any unresolved anger.
“And ‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26).
If almost everything your spouse says or does provokes an irritated response from you, chances are good that you have unresolved anger. When this happened to me, I had to own up to my anger and repent, especially because my enemy, Satan, wanted a foothold in my family. I was trying to shut the door on an issue, but his foot blocked it and prevented the healing that I needed to move on.
If we are willing to confess our anger and put our unmet expectations at the foot of the cross, we can be free to love our marriage partners without restraint. When we refocus our attention on Jesus (and not our spouses) we find freedom, joy, and complete peace even if we’re still struggling. He’s with us.
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
We must decide early never to share information about our marriage conflicts or troubles with someone of the opposite sex. By anticipating temptation in all its forms, we build a fortress around our hearts so we don’t fail in the day of testing.
We can also be tempted to look down on our spouses or treat them with disdain, as Michal despised David for how he praised the Lord (2 Samuel 6:16). We are tempted by our own evil desires and not necessarily our spouses’ actions. Anything that makes the focus all about us is leading down a long road of regret—and even more pain that leaves an effect on generations.
C—Connect with a wise person.
“Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise” (Proverbs 13:10).
Do you have a mature believer in your life? You should be connected with someone who has been where you are and is willing to help you stay on the right path. You want a godly person (of the same sex) who can keep a confidence and demonstrate an unwavering devotion to God as well as his word.
When I decided to stay at home, I found myself very lonely and isolated. I asked God for a godly mentor, imagining she would be like my grandmother. However, when God sent her, she was nothing like I expected but everything I needed. Our friendship, respect, and love for each other have blossomed into a wonderful relationship. Her advice is always rooted in God’s Word and tempered by her experiences.
E—Expect things to change.
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see … And it is impossible to please God without faith” (Hebrews 11:1, 6).
One of the lies that Satan has used against married people throughout the ages is that things will never change—that you will always be in this situation. It usually follows with regret and all the what ifs (what if I hadn’t married him or her, what if we would’ve lived somewhere else, etc). You can choose to wallow in self-pity, but it never leads to refreshment and encouragement from the Holy Spirit. Or you can rest in the fact that God knew your issues before you were married and he has everything you need to make it.
God uses your struggles to grow your faith. Your challenge is to expect God to change you even if everything else seems to stay the same. Your specific struggles are part of your life journey leading to an eternal reward. When you stand before God one day, you will give an account for the type of spouse you were on this earth. Don’t you want to hear Jesus say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23)?
Love and Duty…
I chose to be better, not bitter toward my spouse. When I went through the valley of despair, God did open-heart surgery for my spirit. He reminded me that love never fails (1 Corinthians 13). I held on to the hope of a faithful father who won’t despise a broken and contrite spirit. Taking the steps of GRACE has given me a renewed love for my spouse even if he didn’t change as I wanted. I changed, and that was the turning point for our marriage.
Is it possible just to put your hand to the grind and work, work, work at marriage in the absence of love? Possible, but not probable for the long term—you may grow tired and lose your focus on God’s grace and unconditional love. Grace in our marriages mirrors the unifying love of Christ and his church. There is a distinct sweetness in believers who work out of their faith from those who work for their faith.
You can choose to expect God to change you! There is nothing impossible with God if you are willing to take that risk.
Erica Jong once wrote, “And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” She probably didn’t mean this for your marriage, but you can take the advice. If you will simply trust God and practice grace, he will do great things with your marriage. It’s worth the risk of love and duty.