Joy Locke and Ramesh Naraine

Hidden, assumed or unstated expectations can cause significant rifts in relationships. We all have unspoken expectations of each other whether they be in the workplace, in social circles, or in the marriage relationship. They can, for instance, be behavioural, financial, or parenting expectations. When those expectations are not met we run the risk of falling into the trap of blame, shame and fear.

As believers in Jesus, we acknowledge and aim to live in the redemptive and sanctifying power of Christ. Unfortunately, when we are aware of this power but do not experience it, we can start to feel there is something wrong with us. We think, “If the power to change is available  to me, but I am not experiencing it, then there must be something wrong with me.” This is one of the entry points for shame in our lives.

The social stigma of divorce has gone from our culture and, in fact, divorce has become commonplace. Even so, there still is an element of embarrassment attached to divorce – “my marriage failed.”  Here is another opportunity for shame to take hold in our lives.

When it comes to Christian marriages, I wonder if the, “We’re fine”, auto-response can be a cover for shame as a result of the struggle that we are experiencing in our marriage. After all, since we are Spirit-led followers of Jesus, living his victorious life, then we should have no struggles in our marriages, right? We should be shining the light of holy, loving marriages in this dark world of broken relationships. 

Shame tells us to hide. There is something wrong with me, everyone else is doing well. I had better show the good and hide the ugly.

Unfortunately, this tendency to hide pain and navigate our struggles alone, can make us even more vulnerable to failure. We end up putting most of our energy into covering up rather than into openness, change and healing.

When sin or brokenness is hidden, the enemy has more access to us. On the other hand, when we admit our struggles and are working towards healing and restoration, the enemy has fewer rights in our lives. I have found that sharing openly and honestly with trusted friends has propelled David and me into change. It seems like we can get into ruts – old patterns of behaviour and response. But when we open up to others that there is struggle we take the first step towards freedom. By being vulnerable and transparent we are declaring that we are not satisfied with our status quo. We’re making the point that we want to be on the same team moving towards wholesome change.

So often, Hollywood and Harlequin, have painted a picture of marriage as a utopian fairytale, a fulfillment of our wildest dreams.

However, although marriage is an amazing gift and is meant to be a blessing, the reality is that it is hard work. It is a constant effort to stay connected and communicating at a heart level with each other. It requires sacrifice, surrender, and perseverance.

I wonder what it would be like to break down some of the stigma around struggle in marriage. What if when we say, “marriage is worth fighting for,” we take it one step further and acknowledge the effort required for a healthy marriage. When struggle is assumed and expected then, we might be more inclined to ask for help and lean into community rather than isolate ourselves.

Let’s make every effort to be a community that is not afraid to acknowledge brokenness and struggle. One that is slow to judge and quick to love those around us that are struggling.

Practical wisdom

When someone with a marriage crisis comes to us, often afraid of exposure and judgement, how do we respond?

  1. Listen – they have likely not come for advice but to express their pain, confusion and disappointment.
  2. Pray – neither you nor your vulnerable friend has the answers. We need Holy Spirit’s wisdom.
  3. Create some accountability around complaining – allowing them to complain about their spouse is different than having them share their heart. It is quite loving to encourage others to honour their spouse with their words. Invite them to share how they feel and what they are experiencing rather than what the other person is doing wrong or how they are flawed.
  4. Ask questions – what do they hear God asking them to do? Jesus died in order to bring reconciliation to broken relationships – with God and with each other.  Reconciliation costs something – what is reconciliation going to cost them today?